Sunderland are heading into the play-offs after blowing Preston away at Deepdale while Tony Mowbray’s former club Blackburn Rovers did their old boss a huge favour in South London. Goals in the second half from Amad, substitute Alex Pritchard, and Jack Clarke, gave the Black Cats the win they needed on the final day in front of a raucous 6,000-strong travelling support .
But they still needed either Middlesbrough to beat Coventry City or Millwall to drop points at home to Blackburn. And while Boro and Coventry fought out a 1-1 draw, Millwall threw away a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3 at The Den.
That means Sunderland’s return to the Championship saw them finish sixth in the table, and they will play Luton Town – who finished third – in the play-off semi-finals, with the first leg at the Stadium of Light on Saturday (kick-off 5.30pm). Mowbray named an unchanged side, sticking with the same starting XI that began last weekend’s 2-2 draw against Watford at the Stadium of Light.
Preston boss Ryan Lowe – who was watching from the stands as he began a three-game touchline ban – made three changes, in his case to the side that began last weekend’s 4-1 defeat at Sheffield United. He brought in Liam Lindsay, Ali McCann, and Liam Delap. Patrick Bauer, Josh Onomah, and the injured Daniel Johnson were due to drop out, but an injury to Andrew Hughes during the warm-up meant he missed out instead with Bauer keeping his place.
Scholar Kaedyn Kamara was included on the bench in place of Bauer. Sunderland were pressed back in the early stages with Preston starting on the front foot.
Tom Cannon was inches away from making contact with a low cross from Alvaro Fernandez inside the opening five minutes, and soon after McCann saw a shot deflected wide for a corner. Sunderland gradually began to work their way into the game and Jack Clarke cut into the penalty area from the left flank but sent his right-foot shot across the face of goal, before Patrick Roberts saw a free-kick deflect behind for a corner.
Sunderland saw a penalty appeal waved away by referee Bobby Madley midway through the half when Amad played in Joe Gelhardt and he went to ground after making contact with Lindsay’s outstretched leg. And Roberts curled a shot towards the top left-hand corner which was clawed behind by Woodman.
Preston should have gone in front on 38 minutes when McCann won the ball inside the centre-circle and set Delap away through the middle, he outpaced Lynden Gooch and got into the penalty area before steering his shot past Anthony Patterson but also just wide of the left-hand post. Five minutes later it was Sunderland’s turn to spurn a huge opportunity.
It was a move that began deep in their own half with Pierre Ekwah playing a couple of one-twos as he strode forward down the right, then fed a precision pass into the area into the path of Gelhardt but he could not beat the oncoming Woodman with his finish. Woodman also saved from Clarke just before the break, although the winger’s effort was straight at the keeper.
Mowbray sent on Pritchard in place of Dennis Cirkin at half-time and switched to a back three. It almost paid off within a couple of minutes of the restart, with Amad teeing up Dan Neil on the edge of the box but his low shot went narrowly wide of the bottom right-hand corner.
And then Gelhardt set up Ekwah eight yards out and he should have broken the deadlock but his shot hit Woodman on the chest and bounced clear. But Sunderland went in front in the 54th minute and from that moment they never looked back.
A blocked shot broke into the path of Amad and he lashed an unstoppable shot into the top left-hand corner, leaving the keeper with no chance. A few couple of minutes later, Patterson made a crucial stop from Bauer at a corner to preserve his side’s lead.
Then Sunderland hit Preston with two quickfire goals to kill the game. On 61 minutes, Clarke raced forward down the left and played the ball to Pritchard on the edge of the box on the right and his low shot left Woodman motionless as it found the left side of the net.
Four minutes later, Clarke again came forward down the left and this time he cut inside and curled a low right-foot shot beyond the diving keeper and into the bottom right-hand corner. Amad saw a shot deflected wide soon after the third goal went in, but from that point on Sunderland were in total control and it became all about the results elsewhere.
And when news filtered through that Blackburn had gone in front at The Den, the party started in earnest in the away end.
How they lined up
Preston: Woodman, Lindsay, Storey, Bauer, Potts, Ledson, McCann, Parrott (Onomah 56), Fernandez, Delap (Woodburn 69), Cannon. Subs not used: Cornell, Kamara, Slater, Leigh, Mawene
Booked: Storey, Ledson
Sunderland: Patterson, Gooch (Anderson 66), Hume, O’Nien, Cirkin (Pritchard 46), Ekwah (Lihadji 86), Neil, Roberts, Amad (Ba 86), Clarke, Gelhardt (Michut 72). Subs not used: Bass, Taylor
Referee: Bobby Madley (West Yorkshire)
Read The Full Story Here: Source