Charlton, powered by on-loan Arsenal defender Krystian Bielik, made history by coming from behind to win, securing promotion into next season’s Championship with a dramatic 2-1 win over Sunderland at Wembley.
Goals from Ben Purrington and Patrick Bauer’s last-gasp winner sealed the Addicks fate, after a horror start and glaring error which left them stunned.
Addicks respond well despite early horror mistake
Naby Sarr’s backpass was critically misjudged by goalkeeper Dillon Phillips, who missed the ball completely and watched on as it trickled into the back of the net. After just five minutes in a game of such fine margins, Charlton boss Lee Bowyer was ruing his luck.
Despite a shaky start though, his side recovered their slender deficit and rallied hard against a Sunderland side who appeared bereft of ideas at times going forward.
Black Cats plagued by injuries
Their case wasn’t helped by the sight of key midfielder Max Power hobbling off after ten minutes. He sustained two knocks in quick succession and was unable to continue.
Aiden McGeady, Sunderland’s player of the year, hadn’t featured since their 1-1 draw against Portsmouth on April 27. Struggling with niggling injuries, the 33-year-old winger missed their playoff fixtures and could only manage a 20-minute cameo on this occasion.
Lyle Taylor, who joined Charlton last summer after three successful years at AFC Wimbledon, fizzed a delightful ball across the box. Purrington’s marauding run was rewarded, as he slotted home at the far post – his first ever goal in the English Football League after 120 appearances. Talk about timing.
Despite his early glaring error, Phillips was called into action on a handful of occasions and needed to remain alert as Sunderland threatened from distance.
Stat: Charlton are the first team to win the third tier play-off final after conceding the first goal since 2001, when Walsall won 3-2 against Reading
Thankfully in the end though, his teammates prevailed late on – after a goalmouth scramble – to seal their place in next season’s second tier while confining Sunderland to another campaign of League One frustration.
Centre-back Tom Flanagan couldn’t get his feet sorted out quickly enough and watched on helplessly as he deflected the ball into the corner after blocking Bauer’s initial header back into the German’s path.
Bielik impresses, but what about his Arsenal future?
Bielik, on-loan from Arsenal, was quietly brilliant at the back again. Bowyer decided to utilise a three-at-the-back formation on this occasion and despite early scares, it ultimately paid off.
He won the Man of the Match award after another imposing defensive display, where he roamed into defensive midfield at times and was characteristically comfortable in possession.
There are sure to be plenty of question marks over the futures of players aplenty this summer, not least the 21-year-old. He has one year left on his existing deal in north London and despite his impressive progression over the past twelve months, it’s unlikely he’d feature highly in the pecking order under Unai Emery – even with his versatility across defensive-minded roles.
It’s likely we could see him feature in the Championship again next term, as he did briefly with Birmingham in 16/17, although whether he’ll return to Charlton or join a more settled team in the division remains a burning question.