The revealing League One play-off trend Sunderland have to overcome to beat Portsmouth and return to Wembley

Aiden McGeady celebrates scoring against Portsmouth in the Checkatrade Trophy final
Aiden McGeady celebrates scoring against Portsmouth in the Checkatrade Trophy final
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The final day of the regular season saw Sunderland miss the chance to finish third in the table.

Stephen Humphrys' late goal also pushed them into fifth, leaving them to play their home tie first in the semi final.

Speaking on Tuesday, Lee Cattermole suggested that conversations with experienced play-off campaigners in the Sunderland squad had left the impression it was better to be home second.

It feels apt given the remarkable performance from Liverpool in front of their raucous home support just hours later.

Still, Cattermole was in bullish mood and had absolutely no doubt that the Black Cats could pull it off.

"I’ve been chatting with a couple of the lads who have done it," he said.

"Big Jon the keeper has done it, Glenn Loovens had a taste of it, Grant Leadbitter. We’ve been talking about different ways of doing things.

"It would have been nice to go away first, but I’ve never experienced this so I’m not looking at it as a positive or a negative that we’re playing at home first.

"When this group of players is on it, we’ve proven all season that we’re a really tough team to play against. The training was really good today, and it’s a game we’re looking forward to."

That sentiment was echoed by Pompey defender Christian Burgess, who lost when his current side played away second against Plymouth Argyle in the League Two 2016 play-offs.

"Back then I remember saying that having the second leg at home wasn’t important, that it didn’t matter, but statistics will prove that wrong." he said.

"From what I have seen, generally the team at home second seems to do better.

"It’s not a forgone conclusion by the way, there are some years when it doesn’t happen, but over a period of time it has that trend."

For his part, Jack Ross insisted that it would not make any difference.

But what do the numbers say?

We looked at the last ten play-off campaigns in League One for any clues....

2018

Charlton Athletic (6) v Shrewsbury Town (3)

First leg: 0-1

Second leg: 1-0

Shrewsbury win 2-0 on aggregate

Scunthorpe United (5) v Rotherham United (4)

First leg: 2-2

Second leg: 2-0

Rotherham win 4-2 on aggregate

Rotherham promoted

2017

Millwall (6) v Scunthorpe United (3)

First leg: 0-0

Second leg: 2-3

Millwall win 3-2 on aggregate

Bradford City (5) v Fleetwood Town (4)

First leg: 1-0

Second leg: 0-0

Bradford win 1-0 on aggregate

Millwall promoted

2016

Barnsley (6) v Walsall (3)

First leg: 3-0

Second leg: 1-3

Barnsley win 6-1 on aggregate

Bradford City v Millwall

First Leg: 1-3

Second leg: 1-1

Millwall win 4-2 on aggregate

Barnsley promoted

2015

Chesterfield (6) v Preston North End (3)

First leg: 0-1

Second leg: 3-0

Preston win 4-0 on aggregate

Sheffield United (5) v Swindon Town (4)

First leg: 1-2

Second leg 5-5

Swindon Town win 7-6 on aggregate

Preston North End promoted

2014

Peterborough United (6) v Leyton Orient (3)

First leg: 1-1

Second leg: 2-1

Leyton Orient win 3-2 on aggregate

Preston North End (5) v Rotherham United (4)

First leg: 1-1

Second leg: 3-1

Rotherham win 4-2 on aggregate

Rotherham promoted

2013

Swindon Town (6) v Brentford (3)

First leg: 1-1

Second leg: 3-3

Brentford win on penalties

Sheffield United (5) v Yeovil Town (4)

First leg: 1-0

Second leg: 2-0

Yeovil win 2-1 on aggregate

Yeovil promoted

2012

Stevenage (6) v Sheffield United (3)

First leg: 0-0

Second leg: 1-0

Sheffield United win 1-0 on aggregate

MK Dons (5) v Huddersfield Town (4)

First leg: 0-2

Second leg: 1-2

Huddersfield win 3-2 on aggregate

Huddersfield promoted

2011

Bournemouth (6) v Huddersfield Town (3)

First leg: 1-1

Second leg: 3-3

Huddersfield win on penalties

MK Dons (5) v Peterborough United (4)

First leg: 3-2

Second leg: 2-0

Peterborough United win 4-2 on aggregate

Peterborough United promoted

2010

Huddersfield Town (6) v Millwall (3)

First leg: 0-0

Second leg: 2-0

Millwall win 2-0 on aggregate

Swindon Town (5) v Charlton Athletic (4)

First leg: 2-1

Second leg: 2-1

Charlton Athletic win on penalties

Millwall promoted

2009

Scunthorpe United (6) v MK Dons (3)

First leg: 1-1

Second leg: 0-0

Scunthorpe win on penalties

Millwall (5) v Leeds United (4)

First leg: 1-0

Second leg: 1-1

Scunthorpe promoted

TOTAL NUMBER OF TEAMS WINNING FROM PLAYING AT HOME FIRST: 5/20

VERDICT

The numbers strongly suggest that playing away from home first brings a significant advantage.

That makes sense to a degree, with the opening leg generally a cagey affair. The team at home second can harness a vociferous support to break the game open and power their way into the final.

Sunderland will be hoping to reverse that trend and though it is a statistical rarity, they will hope that a good performance at home in the first leg can pile the pressure on Pompey in front of an expectant home crowd.

Manage that and their attacking players, particularly in the wide areas, might benefit from the space left open on the counter.

To that end, Barnsley's exceptional first leg win against third-placed Walsall in 2013 can serve as inspiration.