Charlton Athletic clinch dramatic League One play-off win over Sunderland
A 94th-minute winner at Wembley 'gut-wrenching' for defeated manager Jack Ross
From the ignominy to the ecstasy. Charlton Athletic conceded one of the more embarrassing goals seen at Wembley and rallied to clinch promotion with a 94th-minute goal. To describe it as dramatic barely does it justice but while their three-season exile in the third tier is over, Sunderland’s misery has been extended.
They completed an unwanted Wembley double, beaten at the national stadium in both the Checkatrade Trophy and League One play-off finals in swift succession.
“That horrible experience, twice in two months,” said the manager Jack Ross. It was Sunderland’s seventh’s successive Wembley setback and a club who have won as many league titles as Chelsea and Manchester City have made the wrong sort of history.
They have registered their lowest ever finish – 49th in the pyramid – and for the first time since joining the Football League 129 years ago, they will have consecutive campaigns outside the top two divisions.
Theirs has been a trilogy of disappointment, back-to-back relegations followed by a cruel denouement to a season in which only City and Liverpool lost fewer league games. If draws cost them in the regular season, another beckoned, until Charlton conjured a winner.
“Gut-wrenching,” added Ross. “There is a lot of soreness and disappointment.”
For Charlton, there was delight and delirious celebrations. Josh Cullen’s deep cross was met by Patrick Bauer and, after his initial effort was blocked by Sunderland’s Tom Flanagan, the Charlton captain bundled in the rebound.
He had not scored all season. Perhaps this was more Jack Bauer than Patrick Bauer, but his place in Addicks folklore is now secure. So, too, that of Lee Bowyer, long seen as an enfant terrible, but who has proved an unexpectedly inspirational manager.
Four years ago, the former Charlton midfielder was enjoying a retirement running a carp-fishing lake in France. Only appointed manager in September, Bowyer has brought unity to a club divided by the unpopular owner Roland Duchatelet.
He started the campaign with just 15 players and lost his then top scorer, Karlan Grant, to Huddersfield in January. His own contract is up now. “Whatever happens with me, will happen,” he said. “I hope we will come to an agreement.
“The club has been through some bad times so I’m so proud. It has been some season. What we have done is something special. What a journey.”
The first game of the League One campaign was a 2-1 Sunderland win over Charlton. The last was a role reversal. It came with a twist on a theme. Sunderland have had more than their fair share of tragicomic moments in recent years. This time Charlton’s goalkeeper was luckless and hapless. Sunderland were the beneficiaries and yet their innate self-destructive streak surfaced.
These sides contested the greatest play-off, 1998’s 4-4 epic, and Sasa Ilic, Charlton’s hero of the subsequent shootout, returned to witness a successor stumble. Defender Naby Sarr’s was a poor backpass, but goalkeeper Dillon Phillips reacted casually, failing to control it and seeing it roll into the empty net.
“I can’t say I have ever seen that before, especially in a final,” said Bowyer. “Crazy game; nothing is straightforward with us.”
Sunderland looked sadly sterile in their 61st game of a marathon season but Charlton rallied. Ben Purrington has never scored a league goal but the left wing-back was able to tap in striker Lyle Taylor’s first-time cross.
“We filled Wembley today,” Bowyer said. Remarkably, there were 76,155 at a third-division game. These are clubs whose history and support suggest they belong at a higher level, but there are always a few incongruous presences in League One. Sunderland will remain one.
“You have to deal with adversity,” Ross added. Sunderland have experienced it more than most.
Updated: May 26, 2019 09:31 PM