After enduring two nightmare seasons in a row, Sunderland have done well to regroup and reach the League One play-off final, but they may have to put up with at least one more year in the third tier of English football as in-form Charlton Athletic have the armoury to beat them on Sunday.
Both the Black Cats and the Addicks have endured plenty of misery in the last few years with Sunderland suffering back-to-back relegations ,while Charlton fans have had to put up with plenty of off-field drama since they were last in the top-flight 12 years ago.
Both clubs finally appear to be back on track with Charlton buoyant under Lee Bowyer, who guided them to 10 wins and two draws in the last 13 matches of the season, before a nail-biting victory in the play-offs against Doncaster Rovers.
If anything, the Addicks improved after selling Karlan Grant, who scored 14 goals in the first half of the season, to Huddersfield Town in January with Lyle Taylor finishing with an impressive 21 League One goals to his credit. The 29-year-old’s career has taken him to the likes of Falkirk, Sheffield United, Scunthorpe United and AFC Wimbledon but he has prospered at The Valley and is 4/1 to score the first goal on Sunday.
Sunderland have plenty of experience in their ranks, with Lee Cattermole and Aiden McGeady playing their part this season, but the sale of 20-year-old striker Josh Maja to Bordeaux in January probably stopped the Black Cats clinching an automatic promotion spot.
They beat Charlton 2-1 on the opening weekend of the campaign and drew 1-1 at The Valley in January but stuttered in the closing weeks of the season.
A closely-contested match seems certain although there appears to be very little chance of there being a repeat of the classic 1998 play-off final from the old First Division which was won by Charlton in a penalty shoot-out after the match had finished 4-4 after extra time.
A more prosaic Charlton victory by a one-goal margin, available at 59/20, seems more likely this time.
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