• Robert Gammon


After yesterday’s League One results, you would have to say that there are realistically only eight teams that are battling out for the last three remaining playoff spots. That is assuming, quite fairly that, Hull, Peterborough or Sunderland will fill the top three spots, meaning one of them will cruelly miss out on automatic promotion.

At the moment Sunderland are in third place but are looking on the up, they even have games in hand over their competition. Until yesterday they had gone on a 14 match unbeaten record, with new boss, Lee Johnson providing a revolutionary turn around in their fortunes. Their top scorer Wyke has been in record-breaking form and this has only been bolstered by the reintroduction of Aiden McGeady.

However, yesterday that run came to an end at the hands of their undisputed bogey team, Charlton Athletic. Despite an even fought contest, Charlton always looked like winners, mainly due to their incredible record against the Black Cats. And, obvious disclaimer: I am a big Charlton fan so there will be some bias, but even I feel sorry for Sunderland’s record against the Addicks.

Sunderland have just one win over Charlton in their last ten games and only six wins in 26 since the beginning of the 90’s. That’s a very one sided record between two teams that have had very similar stories over the last three decades.

And it’s not as if these games have been boring sodden affairs, they have ranged from the comically bad to the heartbreakingly tragic.

If you can remember back to February 2003, both of these clubs were in their modern heydays. Charlton were flying high to a solid mid table in the Premiership and playing Sunderland who were doing the same. However, somewhat inevitably it was Charlton that would run out as 3-1 winners. Though this didn’t tell the full story.

Charlton went 3-0 up in the first half in a period of nine minutes. The first goal came from a shot from Mark Fish, a defender that pinballed off two Sunderland players, before coming off Stephen Wright for an own goal. Bad luck to be sure, but it got worse. The next goal came only five minutes later after a crafty move left Chris Powell, Charlton legend, in at far post. His shot was deftly saved by Sorensen but Michael Proctor couldn't stop his oncoming defence as the ball deflected his way. 2-0 two own goals. The third came even sooner after, a dangerous corner hit Proctor on the back and fell into the net.

9 minutes, 3-0, 3 own goals.

And that isn’t even the most memorable defeat between the two teams.

That accolade will certainly have to go down to the first of the two play-off finals between the two. The 1998 League One Play-Off Finals, arguably the best play-off final of all time (yes, I am biased). It was the first play-off final to be sold out at Wembley and those who watched were treated to a hell of a game.

Both were cruelly out of the automatic promotion race despite nearing 90 points. Sunderland were arguably the favourites, Kevin Phillips in amazing form. He had scored 33 in 44 for the Black Cats and looked absolutely lethal with Niall Quinn up top. Charlton had bullied their way into contention with a solid defensive record. Having not conceded in eight prior to the big game. The day was set up for a cagey affair.

That was the way it started. The first half ended 1-0 to Charlton. Sunderland had had chances but they had been either snuffed out or just went wide. Mendonca, a Sunderland fan, had continued his goal-scoring prowess for Charlton however and dummied Jody Craddock before smashing the ball past Pérez in the Sunderland goal.

But it only took five minutes after the start of the second half for Sunderland to draw level. Quinn scored from a well executed corner. It was then turn for the main man, Phillips to take Sunderland ahead with a deft chip over Ilić in the 58th minute. They had come out of the blocks and taken the lead, to the dismay to those in red and white (Sunderland were in a very dated gold away kit).

But it was Mendonca once again who gave Charlton hope. He evened the game up in the 71st minute, with a clinical finish, controlling a long ball with great finesse. However, it was only two minutes later that Sunderland retook the lead. Quinn scored his brace with a brilliant chest down of the ball before blasting it into the net.

Several half chances and scrappy stops later it would seem like the game wouldn’t see another goal in this explosive second half. Yet it was Ruchard Rufus, 164 games into 288 caps with Charlton (his only club), who scored his first senior goal. Pérez came out to attack an out-swinging corner but got nowhere near allowing the defender to loop the ball into an empty net. The game was 3-3 and going into extra time.

The game had already had six goals and the players were at their ends when extra time began. Yet both teams pushed for the winner. And eight minutes into extra time, Sunderland may have believed they had got it. Going ahead for the third time in the fixture, Summerbee made the most of some tired defending to slot a well placed shot into the corner.

But for the third time, Charlton came from behind and levelled and it was that man, Clive Mendonca, again who would put a sting in the Black Cats behind. Brown had managed to fizz a cross into the main man who somehow controlled the fast ball and acrobatically turned it past Pérez and secured his hattrick.

Somehow another 20 minutes went by and no goals were scored. The game ended 4-4 and was going to penalties. Despite ailing legs, tired bodies and nerves all over the place, both teams managed to score all five of their first penalties.

Mendonca’s celebration for his penalty, to the annoyance of Sunderland fans, was memorable to every Charlton fan who would be using it in the playgrounds of South-East London for at least a decade later. According to the man himself, it was an ill-timed joke between the players. Whatever the celebration this game was going to sudden death. The game deserved it.

During the pre-match show for Valley Pass yesterday, Alan Curbishely, who has recently been awarded a stand in his honour at The Valley, said that he hadn’t named penalty takers beyond the first five and didn’t know who would be shooting for the Addicks.

However John Robinson and Shaun Newton both managed to get the ball past Pérez, with Quinn also netting between them. It was then time for Michael Gray, somehow the first left footer of the shootout, to take his turn. He didn’t look confident, but neither had the previous three takers. However Gray’s nerves got the better of him and he tamely put the ball to Ilić’s left, an easy save ended the spectacle.

Charlton had won 7-6 on penalties after a game that ended 4-4 with two extra time goals and a hattrick for Clive Mendonca against his childhood club.

You couldn’t beat it.

But 2019 tried. The two teams met again in the League One Play-Off Finals

Both teams had found themselves in League One after really turbulent management but this year both teams looked serious. Charlton had somehow pipped Sunderland to third place on the last day of the regular season. This meant Sunderland faced Portsmouth for five times that season, but despite losing in the Checkatrade Trophy final, they had the last laugh and were heading to Wembley for a much more important game.

Charlton had a memorable two games over Doncaster on their route there. With the second leg mirroring the play-off final of 98’ with two extra time goals and a sudden-death shootout.

The final started energetically from both sides, with both shooting in anger. But it was less than ten minutes into the game that Naby Sarr’s back pass to Dillion Phillips found its way into the net. The miscommunication between the two is still of debate to who was in the wrong. But it didn’t matter, Charlton were 1-0 down.

I don’t really remember anything until the Charlton equaliser in the latter end of that half, my head was deeply buried into my hands. All I know is that we were shocked and looked shaky. Up until a brilliant lay off from Joe Aribo, who had timed his move perfectly to beat the offside trap, to set up Ben Purrington at the far post to tap in. Another Charlton defender getting his first goal for the club in the finals.

The game then hit a stalemate. Both teams flattered to deceive in the second half, both bringing on danger men, McGeady and Willaims, to add some flair to the attack, but neither team really took the initiative. However after some brilliant wing play from Joe Aribo, Josh Cullen played a brilliant cross into the box with five seconds left of added time.

Bauer managed to pounce and scored at the second time of asking. Arms were everywhere and I ended up a few rows from where I was sitting and had a bruise for my effort. There was only time for a lob upfield in response. The game was called. Charlton had flattened Sunderland’s play-off hopes for a second time, in equally brutal fashion.

After both these finals Sunderland must be dreading the thought of meeting Charlton a third time in the play-off final. But losing yesterday against the Addicks meant there was a very realistic chance this match could be replayed a third time. The question surely would be… would it be third time lucky?