Sunderland will need ‘moments of magic’ to get past Luton Town in the play-offs, according to Tony Mowbray. The Black Cats took their season into extra-time as they secured a top six spot on a dramatic final day of the regular Championship campaign.
They beat Preston 3-0 at Deepdale, while Mowbray’s former club Blackburn Rovers came from 3-1 down to win 4-3 against Millwall at The Den which meant Sunderland finished sixth, above Blackburn on goal difference and a point clear of Millwall. They now face Luton in the play-off semi-final with the first leg to be played at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Mowbray is under no illusions about the size of the task in front of his team, with Luton having finished third in the table and taking part in the Championship play-offs for a second successive season, while Sunderland were only promoted from League One via the play-offs 12 months ago. Both games between Sunderland and Luton finished 1-1 this season, most recently in March when Amad’s late penalty earned the Black Cats a point on Wearside.
Sunderland have been badly hit by injuries, playing more than half of the season without a centre-forward and going into the run-in without a specialist centre-back. And Mowbray says they will need the likes of Amad, Patrick Roberts, and Jack Clarke to find their best form if they are to get past the Hatters.
Mowbray said: “It’s an intriguing game, isn’t it? Luton Town against Sunderland. With total respect to them, they have been amazing this year – as they were last year. It’s not a fluke that they are in the play-offs because they were there last year as well.
“It’s a tough, tough, game for us. We only played them six weeks ago at home. It finished 1-1 and we got a late penalty to equalise.
“Once they get in front, they are hard to break down. They are dogged, determined, they run and fight to win everything, they bring physicality. It’s a tough game and I think over the two legs it will be tight and we have to have moments of magic from Amad and Roberts and Clarke like we did today if we are going to score goals against them because they are tough to break down.”
Sunderland’s play-off experience last year will count in their favour, with the Black Cats finishing the season strongly to end up fifth and going on to beat Sheffield Wednesday in the semi-final over two legs and then Wycombe Wanderers in the final at Wembley.
“The core of this group has been there [the play-offs] last year,” said Mowbray. “They know how it works.”
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