The Premier League team in waiting, the fallen giants and the big guns of the division. Another season in League One would be a disaster, but in truth it would be great for us as we’ve only met them six times in league action, all matches between 1958 and 1961.
There’s little doubt they’re the biggest team in League One and depending on who you speak to they’ve either done remarkably well or incredibly badly. There’s a train of thought that manager Jack Ross has had a huge job on his hands, shaping the squad, shedding high earners and putting them in the right direction.
There are others who point to Lee Bowyer as the one who has done a good job and who believe spending £5m on two strikers in the third tier should have brought them success. They’ve still got some Premier League players too, Bryan Oviedo and Lee Cattermole played in the top flight for them. Their academy has produced the likes of George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch and they’ve made big loan signings in Lewis Morgan, Jimmy Dunne and Kazaih Sterling.
Still, that didn’t help them at all as they’d only lost twice going into the final month or so of the season, but still hadn’t been top of the table. They then lost three in six, picking up just one win to plummet to fifth and set up the tie with Portsmouth. At one time those two were first and second, they contested the EFL Trophy final and by the time the curtain comes down on the season, they’ll have played each other five times.
Sunderland have been rocked by injuries. Aiden McGeady (pictured), another former top flight player, broke a foot against Accrington and was risked in the final matches, leading to him pulling out of the play-off win. Chris Maguire has come back recently and he’s had to pick up the goal scoring responsibility as Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke have misfired.
All in all, it’s not been a successful season at all for Sunderland, but if we made the EFL Trophy final and finished fifth next season we’d put a statue of Danny Cowley outside the cathedral. Hell, we’d knock the cathedral down and just build him a bloody big house. It’s all about perspective.
It;’s worth noting that they finished fifth but in doing so amassed the same points total as we did in League Two.
I feel a bit for Doncaster as they’re very much the forgotten side of the play-offs. That might work in their favour, although a 2-1 defeat at home to Charlton in the first leg doesn’t bode well. With no away goals, they do have a chance trailing by just one, but are perhaps the least fancied side of the lot.
Doncaster were the top side of the chasing pack, never in with a shout of finishing fifth and for a while locked in a battle with Peterborough and perhaps Coventry or Blackpool for the final play off spot. They’re part of a mini league, one that’s not quite the top five, but also free of the relegation struggle which even Oxford in 12th looked likely to be part of until late on.
They shouldn’t be under estimated though. Just because they finished closer on points to the team in 11th than the team directly above them doesn’t mean a thing; they’re in the play-offs and just one goal separates them and Charlton.
They have goals in them too, John Marquis bagged 21 and is likely to leave this summer, but he’s a real talent. Kieran Sadlier (pictured) won’t be going anywhere as he only joined in January and he’s one to watch, coming over from Ireland and settling in very quickly indeed. They made good loan signings through the season, Mallik Wilks doing well from Leeds and Herbie Kane bringing some real quality during his sabbatical from Liverpool.
They’ve got a big job on their hands turning that deficit around though. They only won seven away all season and had the same away record in terms of points as AFC Wimbledon in 20th place. Their big chance in these play-offs surely came this afternoon at the Keepmoat and sadly, they missed a trick.
Still, don’t rule them out. Often these end of season games defy the form book and the most unfancied team of the four might yet feature at Wembley.
My shout is that Doncaster won’t finish the job they struggled to start. That said, I called them as relegation candidates this summer and they made me look a mug once, so it could well happen again. I just think Charlton have quality and having lost just two at home all season, that home advantage should see them to Wembley.
From a Lincoln point of view it’s surely a good thing, Doncaster is nice and close and would make a great away trip. Apologies to Donny fans but I suspect we’ll see you next season.
In the other semi final I fancy Portsmouth to overturn that deficit against Sunderland. The Black Cats lost four on their travels and again, the home leg was their big chance to open up a gap. They’ve got a suspension too, Alim Ozturk was sent off giving them even more of a selection headache. With Grigg and Wyke misfiring and McGeady struggling, I can see Portsmouth winning this. Don’t be surprised if it goes to penalties again though.
If Sunderland do miss out, there’s not an Imps fan alive who would be disappointed. Being at the same level as a side like them would be a big boost for us and would give Danny a great chance to roll out the ‘underdog’ rhetoric that I think will serve us well. It’s a big day out, a big day at the Bank and if they don’t go up, I’ll be delighted.
In common sense terms, it would be best for Pompey to go up. It’s a long old drag for an away day, whilst Charlton affords us a day out in London. My mate Dave has moved down to MK and he’s hoping Charlton stay down so he’s got a game close to home.
I think he’ll be disappointed. I can see the Addicks going all the way, that fighting spirit of theirs is incredible and unlike both Sunderland and Portsmouth, they’ve been terrific of late. Charlton have lost one in sixteen and won eight of their last nine. I can see them downing both Portsmouth or Sunderland in a final and claiming the last space in the Championship.
It might be a missed chance in terms of an away day, but it will be a victory for good honest endeavour and triumph over adversity.