Monsieur Salut writes: it wasn’t in truth so different from what many of us expected. If you’re not sufficiently older than 46 to have seen our last win at Wembley, as opposed to being a babe in someone’s arms, losing comes naturally.
This was awful. We didn’t even huff and puff very much. Gifted a goal, we retreated as if to defend for 85+ minutes what would have been the most bizarre winner in playoff history. And soon surrendered that marginal early dominance.
Did we proceed to create a chance, beyond the tame Grigg header? No. Did the supersub work? Yes, Charlton’s ex-Sunderland man Jonny Williams, who was instantly a threat; not the probably semi-fit Aiden McGeady, remembered mostly for dangerously losing possession. Did our neat little passing triangles by the touchline ever lead to anything better than a passback to McLaughlin? No. Did our centre backs distribute well or make defensive headers go anywhere near fellow-Sunderland players? You already know.
It could all go right as it did when we last lost to Charlton in a playoff final. Equally, it could be a turbulent summer in and around the club. We’ll see. Hats off to our marvellous support (long-suffering is now a given, an adjective that doesn’t need to be inserted each time) and apologies to my granddaughter, Maya, aged 10, for making this her first outing as a Sunderland supporter.
Pete Sixsmith tells the sorry tale …
THE FINAL ROUNDUP
There was a kind of symmetry to it, I suppose.
Ten months ago, we started the season with a last gasp winner at home to Charlton to send us home happy and looking forward to the next few months as our new, all-action team drove us out of the third level and back to the second where we could regroup for another crack at becoming the top level club we have always striven to be.
And here we were, involved in a game that deep down we didn’t want, in a stadium that for most Sunderland supporters is now synonymous with failure and against a team who finished above us and who have had a tremendous run since the turn of the year.
The footballing gods gave us a great start, courtesy of our opponents. The fact that we failed to build on it must have angered the occupants of the footballing version of Mount Olympus because they gave Charlton a second chance and they took it.
And then, to punish us further for not being up to accepting their early gift, they allowed the Addicks to score a winner in the very last seconds of added time to take them through and claim the place that we had all assumed all those months ago, was our rightful place, back in the Championship.
We now have another season in a division where the novelty value has most definitely come to an end. The prospect of going back to a dump like Roots Hall or a bear pit like Fratton Park and a visit to the utterly dreadful Franchise FC does not fill this correspondent with enthusiasm.
Once again, we failed at Wembley. Had the game gone to extra time, we would have lost comfortably; too many of our older players were struggling against a fitter and speedier Charlton team who had that little bit of spark that we did not or could not provide.
Up front, Charlie Wyke was completely eclipsed by Lyle Taylor, an unorthodox centre forward who ran channels and brought players into the game. His pass for the equaliser was sublime; no wonder he was top of our list last summer, turning down a move because he was unsure of the club’s financial situation.
Poor Wyke laboured against mobile and proactive central defenders and also suffered from the lack of support that the team selection gave him. Neither Honeyman or Maguire got close enough to him and had they done so, he was unable to lay off any balls due to failing to win sufficient headers.
The team planning went out of the window early on when Max Power was fettled by a not very pleasant challenge from Saar, who then scored for us. Two minutes after that, Power went off and the carefully constructed 4-3-2-1 that Ross had based his team on, had to be altered.
It meant that we switched to 4-2-4 with Cattermole and Leadbitter running the centre of midfield and with Maguire and Morgan wide. It didn’t work.
Morgan, who at times reminds me of Allan Johnston and at others like Boris Johnson, was poor and will probably be heading back to Celtic and/or St Mirren next season. He failed to take on the full backs and his shooting, crossing and passing was consistently inconsistent. His presence and Power’s absence meant that Charlton were able to grab hold of the game and push us back.
We had some chances but they always looked sharper, quicker and livelier than we did. Not one of our players stood out; Pratley and Taylor did for them. They took advantage of our tired legs towards the end; both central defenders, who had been ok, committed fouls in dangerous positions, the second one leading to the winner. And their impact sub Williams had a greater impact than our impact sub, McGeady.
That was as disappointing an experience as I have had at Wembley. I don’t think we would have won in extra time but to lose in such a way hurt and I left immediately to avoid the crowds. Many had the same idea.
The fact that it was the second visit in six weeks meant that the numbers were down on the Portsmouth game. The crowd was impressive but where on earth did Charlton get 40,000 supporters from? They have not got a regular crowd approaching even half of that. And they had a t*** with a drum. Some of their “supporters” seem to think that jumping up and down and singing all the time equates to support. It doesn’t.
The train down was full to the gunwales. The man sat next to me had a small camping stool which he gave to his pal to sit on in the aisle. It was a good-natured journey and the young lad in a Middlesbrough track suit top travelling with his mam and gran, thoroughly enjoyed himself as did his gran. It was on time as well.
I met Pete Horan and Clare at Mabel’s Tavern in Hamilton Place, chatted with a group of supporters who had driven down in 3.5 hours and then went to find some lunch before the quick tube ride to Wembley Park. The stadium looks less impressive on the walk up as you pass through the canyon of completed flats but it is impressive inside.
No hospitality today, just a normal seat with Pete and Clare on one side and Mark Metcalf, the author of excellent biographies of Charlie Hurley and Stan Anderson on the other.
We weren’t quite sure what to do when the goal went in – some missed it as they were still entering the ground while others weren’t watching. There was a palpable sense of hope for a few minutes…….
Having left the ground as soon as Bauer forced the ball into the net, I was back at King’s Cross early. I had a coffee and a piece of apricot tart at St Pancras and waited for my train.
Like the train down, it was on time and crowded and I spent a pleasant journey with a lady from Sunderland whose autistic son had claimed my seat so he could see the trains passing by.
Home by 10.30, once again disappointed and questioning why I do all this. The summer could be interesting as we regroup on the pitch, in the seats and, more importantly, in the managers office and the boardroom. Two seasons in this league is certainly one too many……