The Tyneside club are already the moral play-off winners, having finished third in the First Division, two points ahead of fourth-placed Charlton. And although they made relatively heavy weather of dispatching sixth-placed Sheffield United in their play-off semi-final, if they play to their best Sunderland should edge out Charlton, who were rather more impressive against fifth-placed Ipswich in their semi-final.
Both league fixtures between today's finalists ended in draws but, talking about Sunderland's trip down to the Valley, Sunderland manager Peter Reid yesterday argued: "We were the better side down there and were unfortunate not to beat them, we had Alex Rae sent-off and were unfortunate not to get a penalty."
Sunderland, believed likely top be roared on by a massive 39,000 travelling supporters at Wembley today, have, in Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips, two strikers who can trouble the tightest and best organised of defences at this level. Both Phillips and Quinn are fit and Reid has a full squad to select from.
Conversely, Charlton boss Alan Curbishley faces just a selection dilemma in midfield. Should he risk John Robinson for his first match in eight weeks after a hairline fracture of the right leg or play Paul Mortimer who has played just 20 minutes in the last five games? Or should he keep faith with Neil Heaney, on-loan from Manchester City?
The statistics suggest it should be tight but with the greater support the stronger squad and no injury problems, Sunderland should condemn Charlton to another season in the Nationwide League.
Team C H L S T
Sunderland 6-5 11-8 6-5 5-4 5-4
Draw 11-5 13-5 9-4 9-4 11-5
Charlton 15-8 13-8 15-8 7-4 9-5
C Coral, H William Hill, L Ladbrokes, S Stanley, T ToteReuse content