FOOTBALL LEAGUE fanatic Tom Love (@TomLove_18) runs the rule over Sunday's League One play-off final at Wembley as Charlton take on Sunderland.
Charlton v Sunderland | Sunday 26th May 2019, 15:00 | Sky Sports
The League One season concludes on Sunday as two of the so called ‘bigger’ sides in the division lock horns at Wembley with the ultimate aim of promotion.
A lot of the talk in the build-up to the game will have a nostalgic flavour. Of course, these two sides serves up one of the most epic play-off finals back in 1998, a contest that ended 3-3 after 90 minutes, 4-4 following extra-time before Charlton eventually won on penalties when Micky Gray saw his effort saved by Sasa Ilic in sudden-death spot kicks.
The hero on that day for the Addicks was Clive Mendonca, who ironically grew up in Sunderland, after he scored all four of Charlton’s goals with some superbly taken finishes. Along with Mendonca, there were three other excellent strikers on show in Mark Bright, Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips, who all contributed to a memorable game.
Charlton’s bleak decade
This time around the pair will be looking to secure a spot in a division they were trying to get out of 21 years ago. Since then, both clubs have had their fair share of ups and mainly downs. For example, Charlton were challenging for a European place in 2004 under the guidance of Alan Curbishley before he departed later that year by mutual consent
Athletic have hovered around the second and third tiers since 2006 and a failed Dubai-based takeover meant they were making significant financial losses. The real dark times were looming though after Belgian entrepreneur Roman Duchatelet came in as owner with an aim to use Charlton as a feeder club for the other European clubs he held stakes in.
Naturally, Duchatelet’s vision didn’t go down too well with fans. Interference with team line-ups did not help his case and anger grew towards the Belgian; since then, protests have been rife against his ownership. Thankfully, at the current day, a sale is looking more and more possible.
Sunderland’s downward spiral
Sunderland’s woes have been relatively recent. The infamous ‘Sunderland Till I Die’ documentary was enough to highlight what kind of a mess the Black Cats have been behind the scenes. It stemmed from outrageous wages and decent contracts offered to average players back in their Premier League years, such as Didier N’Dong, Jack Rodwell, Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri.
With the Wearsiders finishing their last top-flight campaign rock-bottom, it proved hard to shift the dead wood. Sunderland then suffered a successive relegation into League One and appointed former St Mirren gaffer Jack Ross to steer the ship around. The Black Cats went off as favourites to do so back in August but fell short of the top two.
However, like Charlton, this is Sunderland’s lifeline to kick back on. From a neutral perspective it’s pleasing to see both clubs back on the rise after years of heartache. They’re very well matched, as shown in the betting, and it promises to be as tight affair, if not quite as spectacular as that final in ‘98.
One area of the pitch which is of major intrigue is the middle of the park; you have distinct differences in both sides make-up. Charlton’s youthful, energetic but classy diamond, including the likes of Kristian Bielik, Josh Cullen, Joe Aribo is up against Sunderland’s experienced, solid and warrior-like duo of Grant Leadbitter and Lee Cattermole.
It will be a fascinating battle and it will be interesting if either team alter their formation to combat each other’s.
The Black Cats could opt for a narrow midfield themselves with Max Power and George Honeyman tucked in. Charlton could utilise Chris Solly and Ben Purrington as wing-backs. Ultimately though, I think Sunderland have more available to them in terms of tactical tweaking.
Difficult to split well-matched pair
As mentioned early, the bookies have a cigarette paper between the pair with Sunderland going off as slight 13/8 favourites to win in 90 minutes. I’d possibly argue that could be the other way around as Charlton rank as a better side looking at final league position and the underlying performance data.
The Addicks returned a healthy 58% Expected Goals (xG) ratio at the end of the regular season whereas Sunderland projected a 53% figure on the same metric. The Wearside club do come out ahead of the Londoners though when viewing Shots In The Box ratio, as well as xG from open play, but only by the finest of margins.
I do think a lot hinges on how the two think of and adapt to Wembley. Technically it is an away game for both and if you look at it that way you’d most certainly by siding with Lee Bowyer’s charges. They finished third in the league on xG away, which shows how comfortable they are to coping with external environments – the same can’t be said for Ross’ men though – Sunderland ended 16th on the same metric.
One thing Sunderland are though is, hard to beat. The Black Cats lost just five times this season which shows how competitive they’ve been. Charlton are an excellent side but backing them to win here, something only 11% of League One sides have managed to do, would rank as a tentative punt.
Even though Sunderland have lost just five times this term, Charlton have won four more games than them. That’s due to their penchant for sharing the spoils, they’ve done so on a mammoth 20 occasions this season and that could prove to be a popular selection as the biggest price of the three potential Match Odds outcomes at 23/10 (BetVictor).
I could also fully understand people taking Sunderland in the Draw No Bet market given their aforementioned almost immunity to losing. It’s a head scratcher but all things considered, I did expect the draw to be closer to 2/1, especially given the magnitude of the clash. Therefore, I’ll take the 23/10 on this fixture going to extra-time.
Getting with goals and cards
There is a bet I like the look of away from the Match Odds market and that’s for Both Teams To Score, which is available at a fair 4/5 with Bet365.
54% of Charlton games has seen this bet land, whereas an eye-opening 72% of Sunderland games have too. That equates to a 63% combined strike-rate, whereas the odds on offer expect something like a 60% chance. Therefore, there’s a smidgen of value, for me.
Sunderland very rarely fail to score and Charlton and Lyle Taylor can hurt their defence, I feel. This bet also landed in both league games between the two.
Finally, I’ll take a stab at the 31/20 from BetVictor’s PriceItUp feature for both sides to pick up Over 1.5 Cards. It landed in the last meeting between the pair and with stakes so high, expect some tactical fouls. Here we have the likes of Cattermole, Leadbitter, Bielik, Chris Maguire and Darren Pratley who are all partial to a card. The same bet is as short as 11/10 elsewhere.
It will take some to beat the thrilling final of ‘98 but there are similarities with the pair being so closely matched. Whatever happens it will be a fascinating watch.