Fri. May 24th, 2019

Sunderland reach League One play-off final after Portsmouth draw

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Jack Ross took charge of Sunderland last summer after winning the Scottish Championship title with St Mirren

Sunderland moved a step closer to an immediate return to the Championship as they saw off Portsmouth to reach the League One play-off final.

After a goalless and fractious second leg, Chris Maguire’s volley from the first leg at the Stadium of Light was enough to get them to Wembley.

It was revenge for the Black Cats, who lost the Checkatrade Trophy final on penalties to the same opposition in March.

Two fine saves by Jon McLaughlin in either half from Gareth Evans and James Vaughan headers, and Matt Clarke nodding a corner on to the crossbar, were the closest Pompey came to drawing level on aggregate.

Sunderland will face either Charlton Athletic or Doncaster Rovers in the final on Sunday, 26 May, with the Addicks holding a 2-1 lead going into Friday’s second leg.

Portsmouth are still to win a play-off match in six attempts and will remain in League One for a third successive season.

A tempestuous and scrappy game failed to live up to the hype and followed a similar pattern to the first leg in terms of a lack of chances at either end.

There was ill-discipline throughout on a night when referee Peter Bankes showed six yellow cards.

At one stage, frustrations among the capacity crowd threatened to spill on to the pitch when Sunderland full-back Luke O’Nien accidentally landed in the front rows of touchline seating when trying to keep the ball in play and then had to be dragged away by team-mates from a spectator.

O’Nien did not let the incident distract him and, as Portsmouth’s frustrations at a lack of penetration grew in the closing stages, Sunderland were more than comfortable holding on to their 1-0 aggregate lead.

Manager Jack Ross has now taken the Mackems to Wembley twice in his first season in charge and knows one more win would provide a happy ending to another turbulent campaign off the pitch with uncertainty surrounding the future ownership of the club.

Hope and despair in equal measure

Sunderland only picked up two points from the last four games of the season to finish six points off the top two

While Sunderland have a big day at Wembley to look forward to, Portsmouth will be left contemplating what might have been.

Many pundits had both sides down as automatic promotion favourites at the start of the season, but a lack of consistency left both trailing Luton Town and Barnsley.

Promotion for Sunderland would end a sorry two years in the club’s history after back-to-back relegations from the Premier League and Championship.

Portsmouth remain ambitious and determined to continue their climb back up the divisions, but another failure to win a play-off tie will be a frustration.

Automatic promotion was in their own hands in the closing stages of the season, but the play-offs may well have represented two games too many for Kenny Jackett’s side.

Portsmouth manager Kenny Jackett told BBC Radio Solent:

“Some big saves from Jon McLaughlin and us hitting the bar from the following corner, they were the key moments.

“It was a tight game and indeed a tight 180 minutes across the whole tie. Chris Maguire’s ultimately produced the bit of quality to decide it. We built up quite a head of steam in the first half, but in the second – bar a couple of incidents – we couldn’t quite produce the chances.

“We needed one of those half-chances to go our way and lift the crowd to give us that momentum.

“We wanted to get promoted. We’ve pushed it, got 88 points in the regular season, won a cup competition and had a decent run in the FA Cup. But ultimately, the important thing now is that we regroup and go again next season.”

Sunderland manager Jack Ross:

“There’s satisfaction in that we’ve answered a fair bit of criticism to get through this game.

“The times we’ve played here this season, it’s been a proper atmosphere and a real test, so to come through it is very pleasing. But now my work comes about who we will face in the final and that work starts tomorrow.

“We have another opportunity now to go to Wembley and achieve ultimately what we set out to do at the start of the season.

“The fact that it’s at Wembley is an addition and the fact we’ve been there recently just takes that little bit of occasion away from it and it just becomes a really important game for us.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/48210117

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