ALEX NEIL is hoping Nathan Broadhead’s brief substitute run-out at Sheffield Wednesday on Monday night will help ensure the striker is available to start Sunderland’s League One play-off final against Wycombe Wanderers if needed.
Having missed the first leg of the semi-final after suffering a muscular injury at Morecambe on the final day of the regular season, Broadhead came on for the final few minutes of the 1-1 draw at Hillsborough that secured Sunderland a place at Wembley.
Broadhead replaced Patrick Roberts in the immediate aftermath of the winger’s equalising goal, and while he was not really extended in the dying seconds of stoppage time, the fact he was deemed fit enough to participate at all is a positive sign ahead of next Saturday’s final.
The Everton loanee had been in fine form prior to his latest injury issue, with his winner at Morecambe having made it ten goals in the space of 12 appearances, and while Neil will have a number of issues to weigh up as he ponders his line-up to face Wycombe, there will be an understandable temptation to thrust Broadhead straight back into the starting side.
“It was good to get him on the pitch,” said Neil. “He wasn’t full tilt, so I had him on the bench, just in reserve. The difficulty I had with changing it was that we were going to lose pace and trickery off the flanks because we didn’t have any more of those type of players available. I didn’t want to change that because I felt that was going to be the key to us getting the goal – and it was.
“I’ve not focused on the next game yet, but naturally I’ll pick a team to win that match. At the moment, I’ve not even thought about it. I’ll let the lads recover, go away for a couple of days to spend time with their family, then we’ll get back in and get going.”
Sunderland’s trip to Wembley to take on Wycombe will be their fourth visit to the national stadium in their four seasons as a League One club.
They made it twice in their first campaign in the third tier, losing to Portsmouth in the Checkatrade Trophy final and going down to Charlton Athletic in a dramatic play-off final.
They claimed their first Wembley win since 1973 when they edged out Tranmere Rovers in last season’s Papa John’s Trophy final, but the joy of that success was significantly tempered by the absence of spectators, with the game being played behind-closed-doors.
This time around, Wembley will be a sea of red-and-white, with the first tranche of Sunderland’s initial allocation of more than 37,000 tickets having gone on sale to season-card holders yesterday.
Neil is not normally one for getting too carried away with the emotional side of the game, but even he admits he cannot wait to experience the atmosphere in nine days’ time. The Scot led Norwich City to a Championship play-off final win over Middlesbrough, and also managed Hamilton Academicals to a play-off success in his first managerial role, and having been out of work for almost a year before taking over at Sunderland, he feels honoured to have the chance to complete a hat-trick of triumphs with the Black Cats.
“I’m certainly not going to play that down,” he said. “I said after the final home game, for me, it’s such a privilege. It was only three months ago that I was sitting in the house. You’re hoping that a big club might come and give you an opportunity and a chance because, in football, you’re quickly forgotten.
“That’s not lost on me. I feel really privileged that I’ve got the opportunity, and I want to deliver success because I’ve had that chance. As a team, we want to do that, and I’m extremely proud that I’m here and I’m leading this group of players, and we’ve got an opportunity to try to get out of the league.”
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