Weblog: The football punter
Black Cats could suffer Wembley heartbreak
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The League One season kicked off with a showdown between Sunderland and Charlton and finishes the same way – only this time the result may be different.
It was a Saturday lunchtime in August when newly-relegated Sunderland and a patched-up, injury-ravaged, crisis-torn Charlton met at the Stadium of Light to begin the 2018-19 third-tier campaign.
Sunderland were poor and Charlton lively, although it was the hosts who eventually got up, winning 2-1.
Nine months later and at Wembley rather than on Wearside, this is Charlton’s time.
The Addicks have been superb over the latter stages of the season and it is hard to see why they are outsiders.
Charlton make the short trip across the capital having claimed 11 wins in their last 15. They have lost just three times in 2019, the most recent setback being the 3-2 reverse at home to Doncaster which compelled them to need penalties to make the final.
Charlton had definitely done more than enough to win the tie without needing penalties but credit is due to Lee Bowyer’s men for coping with the pressure to win that shootout.
And they’ve been dealing with pressure well all season as can be seen by their record in the big league games. The London outfit have taken 18 points off their top-five rivals this term - that’s more than Luton or Barnsley who went up automatically and is also more than Sunderland.
That they’ve managed to do that while playing bright, attractive football is even more commendable.
Bowyer favours a diamond formation with Joe Aribo supplementing the front two, where Lyle Taylor is the stand-out figure.
Taylor has had a superb season basically drifting all over the top end of the pitch. He’s netted 21 goals in the league and another one in the playoffs, has hit ten in his last 13 and is likely to give Sunderland’s back line a full work-out.
The Black Cats survived a war of attrition with Portsmouth in the semi to book a return to Wembley two months after they lost the shootout to Pompey in the EFL Trophy final.
They have won two of their last nine and fittingly arrive at Wembley thanks to a draw. They’ve had 23 stalemates in all competitions this season which is too many.
Their biggest issue, certainly since top scorer Josh Maja left in January (he’s still their top scorer), has been a failure to break down obdurate defences.
They rely enormously on the skills of Aiden McGeady, who isn’t a guaranteed starter because of a broken bone in his foot which has troubled him for two months and kept him off the pitch for three weeks.
A fully-fit McGeady is a serious weapon and gives an ounce of flair in a side short of it elsewhere.
Sunderland’s knack of drawing games makes the stalemate a runner at 9-4 but Charlton should probably be shorter than 2-1.