Charlton 4-4 Sunderland (Charlton win 7-6 on penalties)
Division One Playoff Final 25th May 1998, Wembley
Greatest game of all time?
The playoff final of 1998 was undoubtedly one of the greatest and most exciting games in English football history.
Charlton and Sunderland battled for 120 minutes and still a winner could not be found. The match had to be settled by the dreaded lottery of a penalty shoot-out.
Winning the Division One playoff final was often described as ‘the richest prize in football’. The reward was a place in The Premiership, and the vast sums of money and prestige that came with playing in the world’s most exciting league.
Charlton’s best team for a decade
Charlton were managed by Alan Curbishley and had enjoyed a successful season in Division One. They achieved a fourth place finish, their highest in the league since being relegated from the top division in 1990.
The team was made up of solid professionals, with a spine of experienced British players, Mark Bowen, Mark Kinsella and Mark Bright.
Partnering Bright up front was boyhood Sunderland fan Clive Mendonca.
The team had kept a remarkable 10 clean sheets in a row, including both legs of the semi-final against Ipswich, thanks to the heroics of Australian keeper Sasa Ilic.
Sunderland looking to bounce back
Sunderland had narrowly missed out on automatic promotion, finishing four points behind champions Nottingham Forest, and just one point behind runners-up Middlesbrough.
It was a great effort to bounce straight back at the first attempt, having being relegated from the Premiership the previous season.
That opportunity was still open to them if they could beat Charlton.
Experienced manager Peter Reid had built an exciting team, with the front two Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips scoring goals for fun throughout the campaign.
Phillips had equalled, and was just one goal short of breaking, Brian Clough’s record of 34 goals for Sunderland in a single season.
May the best team win
The game was played on a glorious afternoon at Wembley, the most famous stadium in the world. An ideal setting for the match that would follow.
The game began slowly with both teams feeling their way into the game. Sunderland had the first sight of goal, captain Kevin Ball heading a Nicky Summerbee corner over the bar.
Boyhood Sunderland fan scores for Charlton
On 23 minutes the deadlock was broken. Charlton forward, Mendonca turned smartly inside the box and placed his shot wide of Perez into the goal. The game then became stretched and both teams looked dangerous.
Mark Bright was unfortunate with a headed effort after a great cross from Neil Heaney. Lee Clark must have thought he had levelled the game just before half time but saw his effort fly over the bar.
Black cats smell blood
Sunderland came out after the half time interval with real intent and were on level terms within five minutes of the restart.
Niall Quinn was the first to a driven corner from the right, and he powered his header between the defender and goalkeeper on the line and into the near post. The goal lifted Sunderland and they were now the better team. They were displaying the kind of attacking threat that saw them finish the league’s top scorers that season with 86 goals.
Quinn blazed a shot over the bar when it seemed easier to score after Kinsella had come close for Charlton.
On 58 minutes Sunderland put themselves in front.
A loose ball was headed forward by Lee Clark and Kevin Phillips got behind the defence. He lifted his shot over Ilic and into the far corner. Sunderland had come from behind to lead in less than 15 minutes from the restart, now they started to believe it could be their day.
Can Charlton get back in it? – Read more