Sunderland seal a play-off place after stunning Preston performance in dramatic Championship climax
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One year after their promotion from League One, the hosts have a chance to go back-to-back.
Three goals in ten second-half minutes, allied with an extraordinary Millwall collapse at the Den, saw Tony Mowbray’s side surge into the top six and set up a semi final against Luton Town.
Amad, Alex Pritchard and Jack Clarke were all one the scoresheet with three exceptional long-range efforts, sending a near 6,000-strong away end into delirium.
Sunderland knew they would need results to go their way but the scale of their own task at Deepdale was underlined when the hosts flew out the block, with O’Nien and Hume having to make big interventions to keep the scores level in the opening few minutes. Though Clarke had one effort when he cut in from the left flanks, generally the hosts were dominating the early exchanges and Mowbray’s side had to ride a significant wave of pressure.
The Black Cats slowly began to take better control of the game, left furious when a penalty was not awarded as Gelhardt went down int he box as Bauer appeared to catch him with a training leg. Moments later, Woodman had to fly to his right to claw away a Roberts shot from the edge of the area that was arcing towards the far corner.
Sunderland were beginning to dominate, Gooch firing well over from the edge when the best option may well have been to slid in Amad. Before the break both sides then traded huge opportunities, Delap the first to miss as Sunderland were cut open on the break. The striker beat Patterson but could only drag his effort wide, and at the other end Woodman made a huge block when Ekwah sprung Gelhardt free in the box with a brilliant, opportunistic pass. Sunderland had played well, but went into the break needing to find a goal and a favour from Middlesbrough as Millwall surged into a big lead.
The game broke open at the start of the second half and Sunderland forged two huge chances, Neil curling an effort inches wide of the far post before Ekwah drew another tremendous block from Woodman as he broke into the box. The visitors were on top and from there produced a five minute spell of dazzling quality.
First Amad rifled a stunning, opportunistic effort past Woodman, one the goalkeeper did not anticipate and could do nothing to save. Then after spurning a big chance to shoot substitute Pritchard curled an effort past the rooted Woodman into the far corner, and he was then beaten again as the visitors swept forward and fed Clarke, the winger cutting inside and curling into the far corner in trademark style.
It was dazzling, mindboggling stuff.
After Pritchard’s goal word reached the away end that Blackburn had somehow fought back from 3-1 down at the Den, and when they went ahead with minutes to play it was party mode in the away end.
The Black Cats played out the closing exchanges with ease, fully deserving of their win and their place in the top six.