Patrick Roberts scored on the final day of last season to help send Sheffield Wednesday down to League One, and the winger condemned the Owls to another season in the third tier with an injury-time winner to put Sunderland 90 minutes away from promotion.
The match was heading into extra-time after Lee Gregory slid the ball home to cancel out Ross Stewart’s first-leg winner but Roberts pounced in the 10 minutes of time added on to earn victory for Sunderland thanks to fine work by Jack Clarke on the left , who tricked his way inside the box before fizzing it into the path of Roberts. The duo eleven cost a combined £21m, which proved handy to Alex Neil.
A packed Hillsborough roared every touch from a Sheffield Wednesday player in the early stages. The biggest cheer of the opening five minutes was saved for Sunderland’s Alex Pritchard when he leapt over an outstretched leg on the edge of the box, only for the referee and home supporters to show the midfielder what they thought of his artistic attempt to win a free -kick.
Needing a goal to level the tie, Wednesday could only bide their time for so long, especially due to the fact Sunderland had one eye on the clock from the first whistle. Goalkeeper Anthony Patterson was harangued whenever it was deemed he had held onto the ball for an extra split-second.
Barry Bannan’s intelligence on the ball ensured the surround sound did not stop. Whenever the midfielder collected a pass, the volume was raised in expectation. When he did finally measure a pass perfectly, Josh Windass whipped a shot at goal, only for Danny Batth to be in the way. Bannan raised the noise levels once more just before the half-hour mark when he slid in to catch Pritchard on the top of his boot with his studs, forcing referee, James Linington, to take out his yellow card, much to the disgust of Hillsborough .
It took 35 minutes for a shot on target, and it came in an unlikely way. A Wednesday corner was sent back into the box where George Byers choreographed a perfect overhead kick, only to send the ball straight into Patterson’s waiting arms.
For a game that lacked quality, there was plenty of intensity and ferocity to make up for it. Sunderland’s first show of intent came from a well-worked corner soon after the break found its way to Clarke’s feet but he could only drag his shot wide from inside the area, leaving Sunderland to wait even longer for a first attempt on target.
Sunderland were better at disrupting Wednesday in the second half, upsetting the home team and fans alike. There was a demand for urgency to avoid the game slowing down but poorly-timed challenges and misplaced passes allowed the visitors to keep the game at more sedation to increase frustration inside Hillsborough.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell was finally forced into a save with almost an hour gone. Clarke dribbled across the box searching for an opening to fire at goal and when he could not find one, he laid the ball off to Roberts whose curling shot was easily held.
The home fans were becoming increasingly annoyed by Sunderland’s tactics to slow the game down. Pritchard, an unpopular figure in Sheffield, delayed taking a corner to bring to the referee’s attention an item that had been thrown on the pitch, ironically allowing the midfielder to stop play.
It took a moment of Championship quality in a game firmly mired in the third tier to finally take the roof off Hillsborough. Bannan’s defence-splitting pass to help set up Lee Gregory’s finish was needed in a match more focused on tackling and time-wasting than skill and ability.
After 74 minutes of irritation, Hillsborough could scratch the itch. Bannan slipped a pass inside Lyndon Gooch for Marvin Johnson to run onto and cut back straight into Gregory’s path, gifting him the chance to tap home from a few yards out thanks to his slick movement from him. All the blue and white frustration was released, replaced with ecstasy and bouncing stands.
Sunderland seemed happy to hold on for the extra period, which could be a tiring affair considering the officials added on 10 minutes of injury-time due to constant stoppages in play but their fans were the only ones who made all the noise in the silence when Roberts darted in to become the hero after Clarke’s brilliance.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism