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Sunderland end play-off hoodoo to secure promotion to the Championship

Ross Stewart celebrates scoring Sunderland’s second goal of the game (Steven Paston/PA)
Ross Stewart celebrates scoring Sunderland’s second goal of the game (Steven Paston/PA)

Sunderland are back in the Championship after four seasons away after they beat Wycombe 2-0 in the Sky Bet League One play-off final at Wembley.

The Black Cats finally won a play-off campaign at the seventh time of asking thanks to goals in either half from Elliot Embleton and Ross Stewart, meaning they join Wigan and Rotherham in winning promotion to the second tier.

They deserve this Wembley success as they were the form team at the back end of the regular campaign, last suffering defeat in February, and it justifies the decision to sack Lee Johnson in January and replace him with former Preston boss Alex Neil.

Neil will be a good fit for the Wearsiders in the Championship and, after several years in the wilderness, they will finally be looking up at the prospect of challenging to get back into the Premier League.

Wycombe’s quest for an instant return to the second tier was denied, meaning 40-year-old Adebayo Akinfenwa’s 755th and last appearance of his career ended in disappointment.

Given their wretched history in the play-offs, where they had lost three finals and three semi-finals previously, Sunderland were keen to get their business done early and, roared on by 46,000 noisy supporters, they made an electric start.

Alex Pritchard hit the side-netting from a 20-yard free-kick that had some of those fans thinking it was in, while Stewart could not make sufficient contact with a cross that made its way through to the back post.

The breakthrough came in the 12th minute and was reward for the strong start.

Embleton justified his recall to the team by bursting forward and unleashing a swerving shot from 25 yards that will give Wycombe goalkeeper David Stockdale nightmares as it went straight through him.

Sunderland continued to look the more likely and Stewart forced Stockdale into a stretching save, while Pritchard had another effort that was straight at the Wycombe goalkeeper.

The Chairboys are too competitive and streetwise to be blown away, though, and began to get a foothold in the game, regularly asking questions of the Sunderland defence with balls into the box.

The Black Cats had been penned back in the early exchanges of the second half but had the perfect chance to give themselves some breathing space in the 51st minute.

Pritchard, involved in everything Sunderland did, whipped in an inviting cross for Stewart, who put his header just wide.

For all of their bluster, Wycombe had not looked like getting back into the game, but their big chance came on the hour mark.

Bailey Wright misjudged Anthony Stewart’s long ball, allowing Sam Vokes to close in on goal, but he could not get the ball out from under his feet quickly enough and goalkeeper Anthony Patterson rushed out to make a big save.

That was an important moment as Sunderland were able to make sure of promotion 19 minutes later.

Pritchard was again involved, teeing-up Stewart to fire home into the bottom corner from the edge of the season for his 26th – and most important – goal of the season.

That settled matters and Sunderland saw out the remaining time with ease before the celebrations were able to begin in earnest.