Sunderland overcame the play-off hoodoo to seal a Sky Bet Championship return after getting past Wycombe 2-0 in the League One play-off final. Alex Neil’s side secured their return to the second tier for the first time since 2018 in front of 72,000 fans at Wembley. Elliot Embleton helped the Black Cats get on to a dream start before Ross Stewart clinched the victory late in the second half. What is interesting to note is that Sunderland have won a Football League play-off final for the first time in their fourth attempt. Their recent defeat was to Charlton Athletic in 2018-19.
Sunderland boss Alex Neil was understandably delighted with the victory and said this club “shouldn’t be where it is.” He told Sky Sports Football, “I thought we deserved to win. Wycombe have done great this season, we knew a lot of people had heavily backed us, but that’s normal for us. We coped with that really well, the lads deserve it. I’m buzzing for them, and the fans. This club shouldn’t be where it is, and this is the first step towards getting us back where we want to be.”
“The biggest pressure was from myself – the hierarchy, the people who own the club, that’s not what was discussed. How can you help us, how can you fix the things that need fixing? For me, coming to a job like this in League One, I don’t want to manage in League One – I had to try to get the club out of League One, to become a Championship manager again, under a lot of pressure and scrutiny. But with a group of players like that, it’s not a problem. I’m ready to go, but in a different sense. I’ll enjoy my night, and have a few beers, and so should the players.”
Earlier, Sunderland could not have wished for a better start than the one they had got in the 12th minute. Elliot Embleton’s good run ended with his shot from 20 yards sneaking through the Wycombe goalkeeper. It allowed the Black Cats to settle down and start to dictate the proceedings. They had chances to double their lead but at the same time also needed to see out a few nervy moments. In the 79th minute, Stewart sealed the victory when he got the ball on the edge of the box and fired it past the keeper.
Meanwhile, Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth accepted that the better team won on the day. He told Sky Sports Football, “The better team won today. I can’t sit here and pretend that we were better than Sunderland. I thought at 1-0 there were a few nerves from them and they had chances, but they’ve got some good players. Congratulations to Sunderland, they deserve to be in the Championship next season. We’ll go again and dust ourselves off. I’ve got a great set of boys and I’m really proud of them. But it was Sunderland’s day today.”