Two former Premier League teams battle it out for a place in the Championship when Charlton and Sunderland meet in the League One playoff final at Wembley on Sunday (3pm live on Sky Sports).
It is a re-run of the famous Championship playoff final of 1998, where the lead swung back and forth in a match that ended 3-3 after normal time, 4-4 after extra time and was then decided on penalties. That went to sudden death before Charlton emerged as 7-6 victors.
The two teams would do well to match that kind of drama this weekend, although there can be no doubting which of them was involved in the more entertaining semi-final. While Sunderland eked out a 1-0 win over the two legs of their tie with Portsmouth, Charlton drew 4-4 on aggregate with Doncaster Rovers before prevailing on penalties.
Charlton appeared to be in control of the tie following a 2-1 away win in the first leg. Even more so when they scored two minutes into the return at The Valley. Doncaster fought back, scoring twice to level things and then briefly went ahead in extra time. A swift aggregate equaliser took the tie to penalties, where it was Charlton who won 4-3.
It was not exactly the sort of encounter one would have expected from Lee Bowyer’s side after a campaign in which their primary virtue has been their defensive stability. Charlton had the second best defensive record in League 1 through the regular season, with 40 goals conceded in 46 matches; in attack, they were outscored by all the other top-six sides.
It was, though, a successful approach that yielded a third place finish despite the January departure of Karlan Grant, the club’s top scorer at that stage, to Huddersfield. In fact, with the attacking contributions of eventual top scorer and assister Lyle Taylor and the promising young midfielder Joe Aribo, Charlton were particularly strong down the final stretch.
From the start of March, over the course of their final 12 matches, Charlton had the best record in the division, securing 29 points from nine wins, a pair of draws and just one defeat, scoring 23 and conceding just six. That saw them enter the playoffs in excellent form, which was certainly not the case for their opponents on Sunday.
Sunderland maintained automatic-promotion challenging pace through the first half of the season, taking 47 points from their first 23 matches of the campaign. They tailed off a bit thereafter, taking just 38 points from their final 23 matches to end up fifth, six points off the top two and three shy of Charlton in third. They only had the 10th best record in the division over the last couple of months of the campaign.
Jack Ross’ side maintained a pretty steady defensive record throughout the regular season, conceding a goal per match in the first half and barely over that in the second, but their attacking output dropped off from 1.91 goals per match in the first to 1.57 thereafter. The January transfer of Josh Maja to Bordeaux robbed them of their primary scoring threat. He still finished the campaign as their top scorer despite his early departure.
Sunderland are a solid side. They showed as much in their semi-final triumph over Portsmouth, where a first-leg goal from Christopher Maguire proved sufficient to see them through on the back of two clean sheets. They have had the upper hand on Charlton this season, winning 2-1 at home on the first day of the season and drawing 1-1 away in January.
Both of those results were, though, achieved with Maja on the pitch (he scored in the home win), which he won’t be on Sunday. Charlton come into the match in much better form, with a striker, in Taylor, scoring goals for fun. That provides them with an edge that should be enough to see them to victory and a place back in the second tier after a three-year absence.
Our Preview’s Charlton vs Sunderland League One Playoff Final Betting Tips
- Bet on Charlton to win @ 2/1 with Bet365.
Compare League 1 Playoff Final Match Betting Odds from Best Bookies
Compare Odds To Lift The Trophy / Win Outright