EFL Reporter @simgholam
Portsmouth 0-0 Sunderland (agg 0-1): Black Cats battle into League One play-off final
Sunderland play for goalless draw at Fratton Park to earn place in play-off final against Charlton or Doncaster
Last Updated: 17/05/19 7:03am
Sunderland are through to the Sky Bet League One play-off final after their battling goalless draw at Portsmouth on Thursday night earned them a 1-0 victory on aggregate.
Leading from Saturday's first leg at the Stadium of Light, Jack Ross set his side up to frustrate their opponents at Fratton Park, and they got the job done to reach Wembley - where they will face Charlton or Doncaster on Sunday, May 26.
Portsmouth: MacGillivray (6), Thompson (6), Burgess (6), Clarke (7), Brown (7), Naylor (6), Close (6), Solomon-Otabor (5), Pitman (6), Evans (5), Hawkins (5)
Subs: Lowe (5), Vaughan (n/a)
Sunderland: McLaughlin (8), O'Nien (7), Flanagan (7), Ozturk (7), Oviedo (7), Leadbitter (6), Cattermole (7), Power (6), Honeyman (5), Maguire (5), Wyke (6)
Subs: Gooch (n/a), Morgan (n/a), Grigg (n/a)
Man of the match: Jon McLaughlin
For Portsmouth, who struggled to make chances throughout, it was a frustrating end to a season that initially promised so much. They led the way throughout most of the first half of the campaign in League One, but a poor run in early 2019 left them in the play-offs, and they will compete in the third tier again next season.
Sunderland batten down the hatches at Fratton
Having not previously met since facing each other in the Premier League more than nine years ago, this was their fifth fixture this season.
The old saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt, and that was clearly the case in the first half with many more off-the-ball flashpoints than there were chances being created at either end. Gareth Evans and Tom Naylor of Pompey and Sunderland's Chris Maguire - the goalscorer in the first leg - all picked up daft bookings within the first quarter of the game.
Portsmouth made three changes from the first leg as Brett Pitman, Viv Solomon-Otabor and Lee Brown came in. Chris Maguire and Grant Leadbitter started for Sunderland.
Finally, after 40 minutes, came an opening. A ball into the box was smartly nodded square from Oli Hawkins to Gareth Evans, but his headed was denied at point-blank range by Jon McLaughlin in the Sunderland goal.
McLaughlin was called into action again to make two more important saves after the break. The first came from Hawkins as he tipped his header over after 53 minutes, the second with 20 to go as he denied substitute - and former Sunderland man - James Vaughan.
It was a fine display from the goalkeeper, and Portsmouth's lack of creativity meant they simply could not find a way past him, leaving Sunderland to celebrate their passage to Wembley at full-time.
Man of the match - Jon McLaughlin
On a night where the only job was to shut the opposition out for 90 minutes, McLaughlin did just that. He made a string of fine saves to deny Portsmouth, but also showed superb composure throughout with his aerial presence, catching every cross and providing genuine assurance behind his defence.
Kenny Jackett: "There were some big saves from [Jon] McLaughlin today - Gareth Evans, Oli Hawkins has nodded one back for him and he's pulled off a great save and from the corner, Clarke has hit the bar.
"In the second half, I thought he made a great save with his feet from James Vaughan. Those are the big ones, the big chances in the game, really and the 'keeper has come up with the saves that have edged them in a very, very tight 180 minutes.
"I thought we did [build up steam] in the first half, but second half no, not necessarily. We couldn't get the momentum, couldn't get enough control right the way through the game. As the game wore on it was probably easier for them to be able to control us. Good head of steam in the first half, perhaps they needed a goal in there, but two big opportunities in the second period and that's how tight it was.
"If you are looking at results recently, in our performances we've limped over the line slightly. Our two wide men Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis have been fantastic for us this season, but in recent weeks haven't quite been there and that's understandable.
"You wouldn't change it, you set out to win every game whatever competition you play in. The players will learn. A lot of good things have happened this season. It's progression again for the club and we have to now make sure we're determined to progress again and keep improving.
"It's a disappointment to lose tonight. We wanted to get through, wanted to get to Wembley, wanted to get into the Championship. The players have given it everything that they've got in terms of the season; if you are looking at a regular season, 88 points, you can't say you've had a bad season! There's a lot of pluses and the most important thing is that we build on it."
Jack Ross: "You are always justifying these [team selection] decisions if you get the end result. We knew, coming here, that it would be an intense atmosphere and we wanted to try and have some control of the game.
"I thought we could have been better in possession, certainly in the first half, but as the game went on, I thought we were more and more comfortable and we knew that we had players coming off the bench. You have to find a way to win the games over the tie and thankfully we've done that.
"I've trusted this group of players all season. We've played 60 games now and they've put an awful lot of work in for me in that time. We prepare diligently for every game and so our preparation for this game has been thorough; we understood what we wanted to do within the game and then you have to trust your players to do that.
"The truth is, in an atmosphere like this tonight, they can't really hear you from the sidelines, so it doesn't make a difference what I say then.
"I think having been there [Wembley] so recently means that we are accustomed to the environment, the atmosphere it can generate and so we go there with a degree of familiarity. I don't think it'll make a huge bit of difference in the game, but it's a nice feeling to be going back there.
"We're a club with big expectations and rightly so. To turn around something that had been heading in the wrong direction for so long is not easy and we've done that this season. We've made big strides, not quite to where we want to be just yet, but we're on the path."
Sunderland will play in the Sky Bet League One play-off final on Sunday, May 26 at Wembley against Charlton or Doncaster, who meet in the second leg of their semi-final on Friday night. Portsmouth will begin the 2019/20 season in the third tier on the weekend of August 2-4.