teamnews: 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.
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 fans 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 the 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.”
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.”
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 Hopper
- Assistant referees: Adam Crysell and Craig Taylor
- Fourth officer: 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.
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 would not like to be the gaffer who did not 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.”
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.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism