Sunderland struck late to beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 on aggregate and seal their spot in the Sky Bet League One play-off final.
The Black Cats took a 1-0 lead to Hillsborough on Monday night, but a Lee Gregory goal late in the second half had levelled the tie before Patrick Roberts popped up with a stoppage-time winner.
It was a goal that sealed a passage to Wembley for Alex Neil’s side, where they will face Wycombe for a spot in the next season’s Championship on Saturday, May 21.
Roberts steers Sunderland to Wembley
It was Wednesday who needed the goal and, after a slow start, they slowly took control of proceedings in search of it.
They did, in truth, struggle to create anything really clear-cut in the first half, though. The closest they came was via an acrobatic overhead kick from George Byers on 35 minutes after the ball fell to him at a corner, but it was right at Anthony Patterson in the Sunderland goal.
There was also a content moment on 42 minutes as Dennis Cirkin stumbled in the area and appeared to bundle over Josh Windass, but referee James Linington waved their protests away.
Wednesday’s threat grew throughout the second half and finally pressure told on 74 minutes as they found a way to level the tie. Barry Bannan was at the heart of it as his incisive pass cut through Sunderland’s defense and found the run of Marvin Johnson, who teed it up perfectly from the left side for Gregory to turn in.
But as the game seemed to be heading to extra-time it was Sunderland who struck the killer blow in stoppage time, as Roberts found the finish from Jack Clarke’s low cross to level the leg and hand his side the all-important aggregate win.
What the managers said…
Sheffield Wednesday’s Darren Moore: “I thought it was a better game from our point of view. It was pulsating, closely fought and both teams gave everything. The atmosphere was electric, but one moment decided it towards the end.
“The two goals we conceded were both lapses of concentration. The momentum was with us after we scored, but the one clear-cut chance they had at the end they took. You’ve got to give them credit for how they stayed in the game.
“We’re disappointed for the players but that’s football. I’ve said you’ve got to take it on the chin, it has its beautiful parts, and sometimes it can kick you right where it hurts. We’ll have to regroup It’s been a good campaign.”
Sunderland’s Alex Neil: “What we’ve done is given ourselves an opportunity now. It was a big game, a difficult game; we switched off once in the match and it cost us a goal and that was disappointing because throughout the game I thought we were excellent I thought we controlled spells and had some good opportunities as well.
“I believed so much in the way we were playing and the personnel on the pitch to win this specific match that I felt that, if I was going to change it, I was going to dilute what we were trying to do. Thankfully that belief paid off and we’ve got a chance to go to Wembley.
“I think with the belief, the run that we’ve been on and the fact we keep coming back and scoring late goals and the determination in this group believe, the fans will start to in this team. We’ll do everything we possibly can to win the game.
“We need to deliver. Wycombe are a difficult team and I watched them, last night; they dig, they grind and do everything they can try and get the result – and we’re going to have to do likewise.”
Phillips: ‘Sunderland deserves to reach final’
Former Sunderland striker Kevin Phillips on Sky Sports Football:
“Over the two ties, the football hasn’t been great, though there has been spirit in abundance. But you have to say Sunderland deserve this. Hopefully this year is the year, but they have got a tough game against Wycombe to come. “
Morrison: ‘Sheff Wed might struggle to keep Bannan’
Clinton Morrison on Sky Sports Football:
“Wednesday is a massive club and the fans deserve to see their team playing higher – but you have to earn that. There is a lot of quality in that squad and they have to regroup ahead of next season.
“The trouble is that clubs will be circling around Barry Bannan in the summer.”
Man of the Match – Bailey Wright
Sunderland’s Bailey Wright on Sky Sports Football:
“Sheffield Wednesday gave us a right good game over the two legs. We put our bodies on the line, and when we show our quality, we can punish teams. We had incredible support tonight. This is by no means job done.
“Alex Neil has been class and the results speak for themselves. He has brought a culture to the club and we have a real togetherness. He doesn’t leave anything untouched and works hard to give us the best platform to perform.”
Sunderland will face Wycombe Wanderers in the Sky Bet League One play-off final at Wembley on Saturday, May 21, live on Sky Sports Football.