Charlton vs Sunderland: Will we see another 1998 Division One play-off final?
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Last Updated: 26/05/19 3:23pm
Charlton and Sunderland meet in the Sky Bet League One play-off final on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, almost 21 years to the day since their famous 1998 Wembley encounter. With the help of people who were there, we relive one of the greatest ever play-off games…
The Sky Bet Championship final is regularly described as 'the richest game in football' and while that may be truer today than two decades ago, the Premier League - or the Premiership as it was known then - has always been the pinnacle for any football club.
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Play-offs have produced some of the most memorable moments in a club's history, and this is certainly the case for Charlton and Sunderland. Their 1998 Division One play-off final is often ranked among the best games played by either side and in the overall history of the play-offs.
No one could have predicted what would unfold on the afternoon of Monday, May 25, 1998 as Alan Curbishley and Peter Reid led the two teams onto the Wembley pitch. The game was a dazzling affair and it was Charlton legend Clive Mendonca - a childhood Sunderland fan - who put the south London side ahead 23 minutes in.
Surprisingly, it was the only goal of the first half, but Sunderland swiftly got themselves ahead within 13 minutes of the restart. The potent strikeforce of Niall Quinn (50) and Kevin Phillips (58) put the Black Cats ahead for the first time, with Curbishley telling Sky Sports: "I said 'If we don't do anything silly for the first ten or 15 minutes, I think they'll go for it a little bit and we can hit them on the break and counter-attack. That'll play into our hands a little bit'. But within a few minutes of the second half, we were 2-1 down."
Mendonca scored a sensational second in the 71st minute but the score was not drawn for long as Quinn nabbed this own double two minutes later. Charlton did not give up though as Richard Rufus - scoring his first senior goal - forced the game to extra time with an 85th-minute equaliser.
There was more to come as Sunderland were once again pegged back after Nicky Summerbee's 99th minute strike was matched by Mendonca to make it 4-4 after extra time, with the striker making history by scoring the first ever hat-trick in a Division One play-off final to take the game to penalties.
He told Sky Sports: "That feeling of scoring a hat-trick was just unbelievable and they were all decent goals which was nice as well.
"There are plenty of pictures of me with the guns out [after he scored the opening penalty for Charlton] and to be fair, it's the one thing I regret. As a Sunderland fan, I shouldn't have done that, but it was the emotion on the day. I apologise to the Sunderland fans, I'm sorry for doing that."
Following on from an already free-scoring game, all ten of the initial penalties were scored, taking the enthralling tie to sudden death. John Robinson took the sixth for Charlton, and said: "You see me start walking and as I did so, my legs were gone completely, there was nothing left. So I thought 'I've got to jog. If I don't jog, it's going to be the longest walk and my legs are like jelly anyway'.
"If the goalkeeper had gone the right way, he could have touched the post and come back and saved it - it wasn't the most firmly struck in the world. I will never be as nervous ever again. I still get nervous watching it. It's absolutely ridiculous."
Quinn and Shaun Newton converted the next two spot kicks, before another boyhood Sunderland fan, Michael Gray, made the long walk to the penalty spot.
He said: "The reason I took the seventh is because I didn't want to take one. Me being a local lad, it was the last thing I wanted to do because of the pressure, your family is in the stands, you're a Sunderland supporter at heart and you don't want to be the player that lets everyone down. That walk from the centre circle to the penalty spot is one of the longest and quietest walks I've ever made in my life and probably ever will do.
"As soon as I took it, I knew I didn't make the contact I would like to have made with it. I saw Sasa Ilic diving across in the same direction and I just knew he'd saved it.
"I spent a long time at my football club, about 12 and a half years, and I didn't want that to be the only thing people talk about. I wanted to prove to everyone that I was good enough to play on a regular basis at a club that was going places and that's exactly what we were doing."
Like most penalty shootouts, Charlton goalkeeper Sasa Ilic was blessed with a touch of luck, adding: "I saw a two pence coin behind the goal so I thought I'd flick it in the air, heads left, tails to the right and that was my only solution. That's what I did and it was heads.
"As soon as Michael kicked the ball, before I'd even caught it, I had this huge smile on my face and I knew I was going to save it.
"I saw all the lads running towards me and I thought 'if I don't stop right now, I'm going to be stampeded' so I dived on the floor and all the lads dived on top of me."
But after the 7-6 shootout win, not every Charlton player was in a state of delirium, with Mendonca recalling: "I remember all of the players running to Sasa, but I just sat there because I was physically and mentally drained. I didn't even celebrate, I was absolutely wrecked with the thoughts of what I'd done against Sunderland and scoring a hat-trick against the team I love.
"After the play-off final, me and my wife went away to Ayia Napa. We were having a night out and I've gone to the toilet and just as I was going out, who's opened the door? Michael Gray. He just looked at me and said 'the last person I want to see is you'."
View from the stands - Ben Ransom, Sky Sports News reporter
It's hard to remember exactly what I was thinking as I was walking towards the greatest game I would ever see. It was one of those glorious early summer days which naturally brought with it an air of excitement, and to my 16-year-old self there was definitely a sensory overload.
There was certainly something special getting off the tube and seeing the mythical Twin Towers looming above a sea of red and white. A river of colour bobbed all the way up to very the top of Wembley Way. Stepping out into the old Wembley bowl was magical - all the way round you could see flags, ticker-tape, scarves - exactly how I'd imagined it having watched so many cup finals.
Although the game itself was to make history as the ultimate play-off rollercoaster, the first half was actually fairly routine. Things settled down and we had taken the lead after a typically composed finish from Mendonca. Queuing for the half-time toilet break was punctuated by talk of keeping it tight and staying calm. But then all that was flushed away.
Sunderland came out swinging in the second-half and their own big guns fired with goals from Quinn and danger-man Phillips. From then on, my memory is just a blur of emotion. Devastation as Sunderland kept on scoring to go ahead - then waves of huge ecstasy every time Charlton fought back to level. There were heroes everywhere on both sides - great tackles and brilliant finishes.
Going first in the shootout made it so much easier than I can imagine it was watching from the Sunderland end. We scored every single one of our seven penalties, and every time we scored, the pressure ratcheted up on the Sunderland players. When Ilic eventually saved from Gray, there was an almighty outpouring of celebration and relief.
I remember hugging my sister and jumping around so much I almost broke her arm. I remember Queen's 'We are the Champions' ringing around the bowl. I remember all the players and staff ending up in the ultimate pile-on. I remember the few thousand Sunderland fans that stayed and applauded the Charlton players when they went up to collect the trophy. I also remember walking out of the stadium with the rest of the Charlton fans in relative silence. Everyone was so drained emotionally from what had gone before.
On Sunday, I'll take a nice boring 1-0 Charlton win please.
Charlton changing the game
The Proud Valiants - Charlton's LGBT fans group - look back on Wembley '98 and their journey with the club...
21 years later…
The two teams meet once again on Sunday - 21 years and one day after their last play-off encounter - and both Charlton and Sunderland will be hoping the game, regardless of the result, will herald in a period of stability.
Once two strong Premier League outfits, it has been an arduous few years for the clubs and they have been well publicised.
Charlton fans have had an ongoing battle against their current owner, Roland Duchatelet, and despite the Belgian's handling of the club, the Addicks have shown their fighting spirit over the last two seasons. Lee Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson have done wonders in securing successive play-off appearances with a very limited budget, going one step further this time around by reaching Wembley and Sunday will be Charlton's first appearance at the new reincarnation of the stadium.
Sunderland have suffered two successive relegations, falling from the Premier League into League One, and seeing four managerial changes since David Moyes' departure at the end of the 2016/17 season. There has been a change of owner too, with Ellis Short selling the club to a group lead by Stewart Donald in April 2018.
Both teams will be well supported at Wembley. Charlton sold out The Valley for their semi-final second leg against Doncaster last Friday and Sunderland brought 40,000 fans to their Checkatrade Trophy final against Portsmouth in March - which they lost on penalties.
Jack Ross' side will be hoping Sunday's trip to the capital will end in happier circumstances and Charlton will be aiming for another Mendonca moment. For the neutral, here's hoping we get another thrilling Wembley encounter to rival 1998.
All the ways to watch the play-off finals...
All three play-off finals will be live on Sky Sports Football.
Sky Sports subscribers can also stream games via the Sky Sports app or the Sky Go app.
- Watch on Sky Sports
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- Watch on NOW TV for £8.99
Non-subscribers can watch through NOW TV. A Sky Sports day pass is available for £8.99, a week pass for £14.99 or a month pass for £33.99. NOW TV can be streamed through a computer or apps.
If you can't watch live then you can also follow the action with our live blogs on www.skysports.com and the Sky Sports app, with in-game clips and highlights throughout the match.