This season began with Charlton and will end with them. I was there at both league games and there wasn't much between the sides in either game but they haven't beaten us yet and I reckon we'll come out on top today. We looked a revitalized side in both games against Portsmouth after the shoddy display against Southend and with McGeady and Maguire probably both available we have two players who can really pull something special out of the bag. Our back four played well in the Portsmouth matches, conceding no goals, and with McLaughlin in great form behind them I'm feeling confident about our defence for once. I'll be setting off to the game in an hour or so to meet three mates who I've known for over fifty years and we've had many ups and downs watching S.A.F.C. over that period but I think this afternoon is going to be an up and my match prediction is a 2-1 win, maybe after extra time.
I had several Guinnesses in the Victoria and Albert Bar at Marylebone Station, which was mainly occupied by friendly Charlton fans, one of whom was born next to the Grindon Mill but had a funny London-Sunderland accent. I don't know why he wasn't a Sunderland fan though. Then we caught the train up to Wembley Stadium Station and managed to get a seat, which was surprising, before having a final slurp in the stadium. They certainly had all angles covered with a gin bar, a stout bar, a fish and chips bar and God knows what else bar. We got into our seats around 2.30 just in time to hear Bally give his pitch-side interview. The weather had turned gloomy and my mate said that it was more our kind of weather but it was dripping on us a bit. The starting line-up looked the same as the side that started against Portsmouth with McGeady, Gooch, Morgan, Grigg et al on the bench. I don't think I'd noticed the overhead camera zooting about all over the place at the Checkatrade Final but it was quite mesmerizing. As the national anthem was sung many in the crowd joined in but one of my mates just kept shouting, “Piss awf!” There were a lot more empty seats in our end than in their end.
We looked cool and composed when defending in the opening minutes and we had the first attempt on goal before suddenly in the fifth minute we were ahead when Phillips in goal failed to hold a back-pass and it was over the line. We looked at each other in disbelief but a goal it was. We immediately decamped to a seat with a better view a few rows back as there was space everywhere. Power had already been down injured and in the ninth minute he was replaced by Morgan as we continued to tighten the screw. Next thing a powerful low shot by Leadbitter was turned out by Phillips for our first corner. Things were going well but we needed that second goal. After fifteen minutes Charlton started to apply more pressure and they won a free-kick just outside our box but the ref blew for offside. Charlton won their first corner in the twenty-fourth minute but it came to nothing and shortly afterwards Sarr had their first real attempt on goal, which went wide. Half an hour gone and we were still ahead but I wasn't happy with the way the wind was blowing as we were still on the receiving end most of the time. In the thirty-fifth minute Charlton equalized when Purrington slotted in a cross from the right. (Purrington? It sounds like a place inhabited entirely by cats.) Anyway, we'd been slack in the build-up to the goal with one or two players not keeping their eye on the ball. The Charlton fans were in good voice but so were we when we soon won a corner and then hit a good patch at last. We won a free-kick at the right angle of their box shortly before the break but Morgan's effort was well wide of the mark. It remained 1-1 at the break.
As we waited for the second-half to begin we wondered when McGeady would come on as we'd lost control of the game. Charlton had replaced their goalscorer with Jason Pearce as we kicked off again. There was still everything to play for but I was feeling a bit gloomy. It was end to end stuff in the first ten minutes of the half and then Grigg came on for Maguire to much applause. O'Nien was involved in a clash of heads and had to go off for a while and then Grigg got the first booking of the game after a striker's tackle. With a quarter of the match left it was still all up for grabs with both sides having their fair share of attacking play. Pratley was replaced by ex-Sunderland Williams with just under twenty minutes on the clock and then there was tremendous applause from our end as McGeady finally replaced Wyke, who hadn't got much change at all out of the Charlton defence. Fifteen minutes to go and extra-time was looking likely... Five minutes later and the stewards were starting to make their way round the perimeter of the pitch while one of my friends appeared to be making silent incantations while holding her woolly Sunderland doll. We were enjoying a good period of pressure without creating any real chances and time was ticking away all too quickly. Four minutes of stoppage-time were announced and Charlton were doing most of the pressurizing. Flanagan became our fourth player to receive a yellow-card and I wondered if we'd make it to the end of extra-time with eleven men on the pitch. I didn't have to worry as in the dying seconds Bauer scored for them and that was that. Most of our fans were out the door like shit off a shovel.
After being gifted a goal we lost our way and then barely had a chance as we allowed Charlton to get the better of us. As a man opposite me on the train has just said, “Another season in that shite league.” See you next season.