The 1998 First Division Play Off Final will go down as one of the most enthralling and entertaining finals of all-time.
Charlton Athletic hadn’t played in the new Premier League since it was formed in 1992 and their last season in the top flight was the 1989/90 campaign. Sunderland were hoping to bounce straight back to the Premier League after being relegated the previous season.
The 1997/98 season was something of a new dawn for Sunderland, as it was their first at their new Stadium of Light home. After 99 years at Roker Park, the club had to find a new home that would adhere to the all-seater requirements set out in the Taylor Report. They were the favourites going into the Final at Wembley.
Former Grimsy Town striker opened the scoring for Charlton midway through the first half, turning past Sunderland defender Jody Craddock before powering the ball home. He had been The Addicks top goalscorer with 25 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions.
Niall Quinn headed in at the near post from a Nicky Summerbee corner to level the score five minutes into the second half. This was the first of five second half goals shared between the two sides.
Sunderland’s top scorer Kevin Phillips nudged the ball past Charlton’s on-rushing goalkeeper Sasa Illic to give his side the lead after 58 minutes. Clive Mendonca added his second on 71 minutes to equalise.
Quinn added his second and Sunderland’s third just two minutes after Mendonca’s effort to give Sunderland the lead once more. Richard Rufus then scored with a header from a corner with only five minutes to go. Sunderland goalkeeper Lionel Perez was to blame as he came racing off his line to try and get to the ball but got nowhere near it.
The game went to Extra Time and Sunderland took the lead for the third time when Nicky Summerbee rifled in a loose ball into the bottom corner of the net.
Clive Mendonca scored from close range to complete his hat-trick two minutes before the end of the first half in Extra Time.
The game was an extraordinary one to watch and I can remember watching it on television with a sense of awe and disbelief. Both sides were playing exciting and attacking football with the prospect of Premier League football beckoning for the winner. Neither side sat back and defended, they just kept attacking again and again.
After two hours of pulsating football, the match had to be decided by a penalty shootout.
Both teams scored their first six penalties before Shaun Newton added Charlton’s seventh to make the score 7-6. Michael Gray then stepped up and hit a very tame penalty that Sasa Ilic saved with ease.
Charlton Athletic had made it to the Premier League but they would only last a season there before being relegated back to the First Division. Sunderland won the First Division in the same season.