Sunderland v Wycombe: League One playoff final – live!

53 min: Garath McCleary gets a ticking-off for a foul on Pritchard that leaves the Sunderland man flat on his back, grimacing with pain.

52 min: CHANCE!!! Ross Stewart misses a wonderful opportunity to double Sunderland’s lead, leaping to meet an excellent Pritchard cross from the left at the far post and directing his downward header across the face of goal and inches wide of the far post.

50 min: Wycombe are really bossing the early stages of this second half and Sunderland’s players currently look a pale imitation of their first half selves.

48 min: Joe Jacobson’s delivery into the Sunderland penalty area is cleared again.

47 min: Cirkin concedes another free-kick with a foul on McCleary, giving Wycombe another opportunity to get the ball into their box. Wycombe’s players appeal to referee Simon Hooper to book Cirkin but the yellow card stays in his pocket. I hadn’t noticed that Cirkin was booked for his first foul a few moments ago so could have got his marching orders. It would have been extremely harsh as it wasn’t a bookable offence.

46 min: Sunderland left-back Dennis Cirkin gives away a free-kick wide on the right. Patrick Roberts hacks the delivery clear.

Second half: Sunderland 1-0 Wycombe Wanderers

46 min: Sunderland kick off with no changes in personnel on either side that I am aware of.

Live football in Tel Aviv: I am told by a couple of readers that Mike’s Place on the Waterfront seems to be the best place to watch football and I think Kat has already found her way there and made friends with the only other Sunderland supporter present. Thanks all.

A pessimistic Mackem tweets. And it’s none other than the Guardian’s own Jonathan Wilson.

Eighth time I’ve seen us take the lead at Wembley. Wins to date: one.

— Jonathan Wilson (@jonawils) May 21, 2022

It’s been an exciting encounter: Sunderland have been the better side and deserve their lead against a game Wycombe team that have played reasonably well but created little in the way of chances.

They have, however, stepped things up a gear in the past 10 minutes and might have equalised if Sam Vokes had got a kinder bounce of the ball in the wake of some uncharacteristically kamikaze Sunderland defending shortly before the break. One suspects this playoff final has plenty of twists and turns left.

Half-time: Sunderland 1-0 Wycombe Wanderers

Peep! Simon Hooper blows for the break and Sunderland’s players adjourn to their dressing-room with a one-goal lead courtesy of Elliot Embleton’s opportunistic strike.

45 min: Joe Jacobson sends a free-kick from deep into the Sunderland penalty area and his delivery is brilliant. With Sunderland’s players running back towards their own goal. Wycombe central defender Anthony Stewart is unable to get a clean header on the ball at the far post and scuffs his header wide under pressure.

42 min: There’s an awful mix-up in the heart of Sunderland’s defence as Wright and Batth go for the same high ball and clatter into each other. Sam Vokes tries to capitalise and stretches for the breaking ball but Bailey Wright intervenes and clears. Vokes went to ground but I don’t think there was any foul.

40 min: Wycombe advance and once again Garath McCleary is at the heart of matters for them out on the right wing. Play is switched to the left, Daryl Horgan is dispossessed by the byline and Sunderland go forward again.

Jordan Obita of Wycombe on the move.
Jordan Obita of Wycombe on the move. Photograph: Steven Paston/PA

36 min: There’s a huge appeal for a Sunderland penalty after Patrick Roberts looks to have been brought down by Joe Jacobson as he tried to latch on to a Ross Stewart backheel that would have left him clear through on goal with only Stockdale to beat from 10 yards or fewer. Offside and the decision is correct but it was a very neat bit of play from Sunderland.

34 min: Sunderland corner. Alex Pritchard sends the ball into the Wycombe penalty area and his outswinger is headed back across the face of goal by Wright. Danny Batth leans back, cranes his neck and sends a header high and wide.

32 min: Sunderland central defender Bailey Wright becomes the filling in an Anthony Patterson and Sam Vokes sandwich as his goalkeeper comes to claim a cross and clatters into him. He goes down hurt but looks OK to carry on.

31 min: Good from Wycombe. Sam Vokes outjumps the significantly smaller Lynden Gooch at the far post to get on the end of a cross from the right but mistimes his leap and is unable to steer his header goalwards. High and wide but it was a decent chance.

30 min: McCleary and Dominic Gape link up for Wycombe down the inside right but are unable to create an opening in the face of some stout Sunderland defending.

28 min: Under pressure from Josh Scowen, Pritchard is unable to keep the ball in play near the halfway line down by the technical areas. Throw-in for Wycombe.

27 min: Sunderland striker Ross Stewart tries to curl a shot around Stockdale and inside the far post. The goalkeeper palms it away in the direction of Patrick Roberts but Sunderland fail to capitalise.

26 min: Daryl Horgan picks out Wycombe winger Garath McCleary on the right flank with a ball from deep. His cross sails well wide to cheers of derision from the Sunderland fans.

24 min: Sunderland continue to dominate possession, repeatedly spraying the ball left and right from central midfield, where surprise call-up Embleton and Luke O’Nien are playing extremely well.

22 min: Alex Pritchard tries a shot from outside the Wycombe penalty area but shoots straight at Stockdale, who gets his body behind this effort.

21 min: Wycombe attack again. McCleary tries to pick out Sam Vokes with a cross into the penalty area but the Welshman is penalised for – I think – offside.

19 min: Embleton charges forward again and picks out Patrick Roberts on the right wing. Wycombe put a stop to his gallop and clear the ball upfield.

17 min: Sunderland continue their strong start but Wycombe get the ball wide to Garath McCleary. He links up with Daryl Horgan, who finds Wycombe right-back Jason McCarthy with a ball around the corner. McCarthy’s whipped cross is collected by Anthony Patterson at the near post.

14 min: Oh dear. Looking at a replay, Stockdale seemed to have been caught completely unawares by Embleton’s shot. He did raise his left arm, which the ball hit on its way past him. It’s a bad error from arguably the best goalkeeper in League One.

13 min: It’s a fine strike from Sunderland born and bred Embleton, who picked up the ball on the halfway line, advanced to an area a couple of yards outside the Wycombe box without being closed down and unleashed a surface-to-air strike that was straight at David Stockdale but still beat the goalkeeper.

GOAL! Sunderland 1-0 Wycombe Wanderers (Embleton 12)

Sunderland lead! Elliot Embleton scores with a rocket from 25 yards out after a driving run through midfield.

Elliot Embleton celebrates after opening the scoring.
Elliot Embleton celebrates after opening the scoring. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

11 min: Wycombe keeper David Stockdale stretches to palm an Elliot Embleton cross from the left out for a Sunderland corner. Good goalkeeping – I think it was going in. Nothing comes of Pritchard’s set-piece.

9 min: Sunderland have roared out of the traps, as many predicted. Wycombe need to weather this early storm and are doing so at the moment.

8 min: Pritchard gets another cross into the Wycombe box from the right touchline but there’s nobody there in a red and white shirt to capitalise.

7 min: Wycombe get their first cross into the Sunderland box after a clever switch of play but Sunderland goalkeeper Anthony Patterson is quick of his line to claim the ball.

5 min: Wycombe centre-back Ryan Taffozolli stoops to head clear a Pritchard cross he should have hoofed clear with his foot and misses it completely but Ross Stewart is unable to capitalise at the back post.

4 min: Oof! Alex Pritchard takes the free-kick and aims for the top corner. His effort ripples the side-netting on its way wide, prompting a huge roar of misplaced celebration from Sunderland’s fans, who thought he’d scored. It was a good effort.

3 min: Sunderland left-back Dennis Cirkin is felled by Jason McCarthy just outside the Wycombe penalty. Free-kick, a few yards left of centre.

2 min: Joe Jacobson takes a long throw down the left touchline for Wycombe but Sunderland win the first free-kick of the afternoon halfway inside their own half.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers is go …

1 min: Wycombe get the ball rolling, while Alex Neil has discarded his blazer, shirt and tie and replaced them with a marine blue club training top, tracky-Bs and trainers for the serious business of the afternoon. Game on … and I feel physically ill with nerves.

Not long now: Led by Alex Neil and Gareth Ainsworth, the two sets of players follow SImon Hooper and his team of match officials out on to the pitch in front of an almost packed Wembley. Neil is wearing a club blazer and tie, Ainsworth is in a black open-necked shirt, black skinny jeans and brown winklepickers. The man is an absolute legend!

An email: “In the best tradition of MBMs,” writes Kat. “I have foolishly decided to go on holiday and am now hoping someone might know where I can watch this match in Tel Aviv.” It’s a long shot but … anyone?

Nathan Broadhead and Alex Neil
Nathan Broadhead, who received an international call-up for Wales this week, talks to his manager Alex Neil ahead of kick-off. Broadhead is on the Sunderland bench today. Photograph: Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC/Getty Images
Wycombe warm-up
Wycombe’s players arrived out on the pitch for their warm-up about 10 minutes after SUnderland’s. Photograph: John Walton/PA
Wycombe fans at Wembley
Wycombe Wanderers are also well represented in the stands. Photograph: John Walton/PA
Sunderland at Wembley
Over 45,000 Sunderland fans are expected at Wembley today. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers line-ups

Sunderland: Patterson, Wright, Batth, O’Nien, Gooch, Embleton, Evans, Cirkin, Pritchard, Roberts, Stewart.

Subs: Doyle, Broadhead, Neil, Clarke, Matete, McGeady, Hoffmann.

Wycombe Wanderers: Stockdale, McCarthy, Stewart, Tafazolli, Jacobson, Gape, Scowen, McCleary, Horgan, Obita, Vokes.

Subs: Grimmer, Wheeler, Wing, Hanlan, Akinfenwa, Dickinson, Joseph.

Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire)

Team news: Alex Neil makes one change to the side that started the second leg of Sunderland’s play-off semi-final win against Sheffield Wednesday. Elliot Embleton comes in for Jack Clarke on the left wing.

Wycombe are unchanged from the side that lined up against MK Dons in the second leg of their semi-final. As expected, Adebayo Akinfenwa is on the bench.


Alex Neil’s starting XI for today’s Play-Off Final. #SAFC | #TilTheEnd

— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) May 21, 2022

Full disclosure: As many readers will know, your commentator today is a Sunderland fan, but my reportage will be nothing if not scrupulously impartial. Even if it isn’t, it doesn’t really matter as my levels of on-field influence are zero and would remain so even if I was literally out on the field at Wembley.

Gareth Ainsworth speaks: “We know super-well everyone fancies Sunderland,” the Wycombe boss told the BBC. “Everyone fancies Sunderland who isn’t connected with Wycombe Wanderers, which is brilliant because there’s only one team with something to lose.

“We really have had a brilliant, brilliant season. It’s so refreshing to know that the fans know what we’ve done. The players have had a fantastic season. We have an opportunity now to make it an unbelievable season. They’re going to grasp it. They’re going to give everything that they’ve got. I’m so proud of them.

“It’s Wembley. It’s a brilliant occasion. We embrace things here and don’t just go ‘it’s just another game’ – it’s not. It’s Wembley and it’s to play a final. We know what’s going to happen with the crowd being so big and being outnumbered on that front. The boys are in a good place and I can’t wait to walk out on that pitch.”

Gareth Ainsworth
Gareth Ainsworth celebrates his side’s win over MK Dons in the play-off semi-final. Photograph: Nigel French/PA

Alex Neil speaks: “They’re a really difficult team to play against,” the Sunderland boss told Sky Sports when asked to assess today’s opponents. “They’re difficult to beat. The one thing they’ve got, which is a great trait in any team, is that they don’t really need to play well to be dangerous.

“So even if you play well against them, they’re the kind of team that can lull you into a false sense that you’re doing well and then they can damage you. So we know we’re going to have to be at our very best. We have to concentrate and strike that good balance of being defensively solid and carry a threat going the other way.”

Alex Neil
Alex Neil has lost just one of his 17 matches in charge of Sunderland since replacing Lee Johnson. Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA

How will the game pan out?

Sunderland will almost certainly enjoy the lion’s share of possession, with Wycombe likely to sit back, invite them on and try to catch them on the break. The Chairboys are also good at set-pieces and hope to grab a goal or two from a corner or free-kicks around the box.

Today’s match officials

  • Referee: Simon Hooper
  • Assistant referees: Adam Crysell and Craig Taylor
  • Fourth official: Tim Robinson
  • VAR: Lee Mason

A reminder that VAR is being used for this play-off final, despite not having been employed at any other point in the campiagn. SHould the scores be level after 90 minutes, we’ll have extra time and then penalties, if required.

Simon Hooper
Simon Hooper is in charge of maintaining order during today’s play-off final. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Action Images/Reuters

Early team news

Both managers have full squads to choose from, their players all fighting fit and free from suspension. Despite not having played since November, Sunderland winger Aiden McGeady is reported to be available and looks likely to start on the bench. The main question surrounding Alex Neil’s selection is whether he’ll go for three or four at the back.

Wycombe manager Garteth Ainsworth is similarly tactifully flexible and while his team is expected to line up with four at the back, he could spring a surprise. Cult hero Adebayo Akinfenwa plays his final game as a professional after over two decades in football today and could scarcely ask for a more fitting swansong.

Now 40 years of age, the heavyweight striker will be among the Wycombe substitutes but is almost certain to feature as an impact sub, in every sense of the expression, at some stage.

“He’s not going to start and he probably knows that,” said Ainsworth during the week. “But I wouldn’t like to be the gaffer who didn’t put him on for his last game, at the home of football.

“I’m sure the football gods are looking down, thinking ‘there’s one more moment’. There’s a story to be written there. If Bayo can seal the deal then what a way to go out. But he’ll say that even if he doesn’t, what a way to go out.”

Adebayo Akinfenwa
Adebayo Akinfenwa is due to play in the final match of his career for Wycombe Wanderers this afternoon. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

League One play-off final: Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers

There’s a place in the Championship up for grabs at Wembley Stadium, where Sunderland fans are expected to outnumber their counterparts from Wycombe by two to one this afternoon.

Under Gareth Ainsworth, Wycombe are attempting to get back to the Championship at the first time of asking following their relegation last season, while Sunderland, on a 15-match unbeaten run under Alex Neill, are trying to end a four-year purgatory in the third division following more than a decade of poor ownership and mismanagement.

Kick-off in a huge match at Wembley is at 3pm (BST) but stay tuned in the meantime for all the team news and build-up.


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