Sunderland punch their weight to ruin Chairboys hopes of Championship return
League One playoff final: Wembley
Sunderland (1) 2 Embleton 12, Stewart 79
Wycombe Wanderers (0) 0
It has always felt a bit strange seeing Sunderland in League One. After four years among the pyramid’s third tier, the Wearsiders have decided it’s time to go.
Their fans have had little to cheer in recent seasons – and had to endure the extra pain this season of seeing their loathed neighbours Newcastle take on Saudi Petro dollars which will almost certainly bring them regional dominance for the foreseeable future.
But at least they have regained some pride by finding a way to go up in a season that was starting to look a little uncertain under Lee Johnson. Alex Neil arrived in February and they began a run of results which led to their date at Wembley.
With more than half the stadium taken up by 50,000 Sunderland fans, the faith has not been lost. Their packed end was quite the contrast to the sun-baked east end of the stadium, which had only the lower deck populated with fans. Wycombe's fan base in Bucks is altogether more modest, of course.
The result, alas for Wycombe, never seemed in doubt, but failure to make an instant return to the Championship following last season’s relegation was at least an admirable one.
Former QPR hero Gareth Ainsworth – now in his 10th year in charge at the club - has instilled such a cadre spirit among his team and supporters and unfashionable though they may be to the outside world, they continue to punch above their weight.
Finishing sixth in a League One boasting quite a few big names of Premier League seasons past is no mean feat.
Sunderland set off at a blistering pace – as if affronted to have to go through a play-off to reclaim their place in the Championship.
For the Chairboys, it was all hands to the pump as ex-Brentford and Spurs midfielder Alex Pritchard – relishing Wembley’s wide-open spaces – sprayed the ball around impressively and clipped an early free-kick into the side-netting.
The gangly Ross Stewart almost converted at the far post after a cross from the right eluded a bemused Ryan Tafazolli.
It was not long before the Black Cats were ahead. Elliott Embleton drove forward from half way and a retreating defence could not regroup in time to prevent a lashed shot from 25 yards finding the net.
It was struck fairly centrally and former Fulham keeper David Stockdale should have done better than waft a left harm in the air, even if he can claim to have been defeated by a slight deflection.
It took a while for Wycombe to get a toe hold and for a couple of crosses to finally reach the head of Sam Vokes.
Sunderland always carried the extra menace and nearly had the two-goal cushion they wanted at the start of the second half
when the excellent Pritchard – deservedlyvoted man of the match - stood a ball up at the far post and Stewart headed back across goal and just wide.
Wanderers were defiant to the end and full of stubborn energy. But they lacked the quality to piece a Sunderland defence that has tightened up considerably under Neil’s watch.
A repeat of the 3-3 draw the teams shared at Adams Park in January was never on the cards – even if Ainsworth did his best to find a way to goal by introducing the talismanic Abebayo Akinfenwa for the final 15 minutes.
With the game edging towards 90 minutes, the die was cast as Stewart wrapped up the victory – taking delivery of another Pritchard pass and sidestepping namesake Anthony Stewart before slipping a low shot to the right of a statuesque Stockdale. It was his 26th goal of the season.
Black Cats: (3-4-1-2) Patterson – Wright, Batth, O’Nien - Gooch, Embleton (Clarke 61), Evans, Cirkin – Pritchard (Doyle 81) – Roberts, Stewart (Broadhead 88 ). Subs not used: Broadhead, Neil, Matete, McGeady, Hoffman
Chairboys: (4-2-3-1) Stockdale – McCarthy, Stewart, Tafazolli, Jacobson – Gape (Akinfenwa 75), Scowen – McCleary, Horgan (Wing 55), Obita (Hanlan 65) – Vokes. Subs not used: Grimmer, Wheeler, Dickinson, Forino