Football: Reid relaxed before his latest managerial challenge

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THE Sunderland manager, Peter Reid, accepts today's First Division play-off final is the most important game of his managerial career.

Although he has a more than healthy respect for Alan Curbishley and his Charlton team, Reid is confident his men are too good for the Addicks, if they both play at their best, and that they will be the ones to secure the third promotion spot.

A relaxed Reid said: "This is a massive game for Sunderland Football Club, and it's one which I am confident my lads can win - if they are at their best. But, before we start to talk about the Premiership, we've got a very tough game to win first, there's no way we'll underestimate the challenge we face from Charlton. I have been saying for some time now that they are a fine side.

"But honestly on the day if we play well and they play well then we're the better side. Although we drew both League games I thought we were the better side down there and were unfortunate not to beat them.

"Whatever happens the players have been magnificent and I've just got the feeling they're going to do it."

Although he would prefer to wait until after the final tie before answering questions on whether his squad is good enough to stay in the Premiership if promoted Reid did say: "We're better off financially now, we've got a nice blend of youth and experience and I feel we're not far away from being a very good Premiership side.

"Whether we go up or not I'll have to strengthen the squad. It's the way you have to go on these days, but these lads have done the fans proud and they'll not let anyone down.

"We've got a good footballing side, with wingers, so the pitch should suit us, although Charlton can knock it about too - it should be a cracker."

Both Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn are fit and Reid has a full squad to select from. As for his counterpart Curbishley, he said: "We're always capable of scoring." His pounds 700,000 record signing Clive Mendonca - born in London but a self-confessed Sunderland fan as a lad - has hit 25 goals since arriving from Grimsby in the summer. That is the best Charlton total by a striker in one season since the days of Derek Hales in 1976.

"But we've had a fair amount of 1-0 wins when our goalkeeper Sasa Ilic and the back four have been fantastic," admitted the Charlton manager.

Curbishley faces just one selection dilemma in midfield. Should he risk John Robinson for his first match in eight weeks or play Paul Mortimer who has played just 20 minutes in the last five games? Or should he keep faith with on-loan Neil Heaney.

Superstition suggests Heaney would be the best option. Charlton have never lost since Heaney arrived at The Valley in March.

The veteran Mark Bright is likely to partner Mendonca up front with Steve Jones moving to the substitutes' bench.