BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Charlton Athletic are back in the Championship – as Patrick Bauer’s goal in second-half stoppage time ensured their 21-year wait to play at Wembley again ended in victory.
The German defender, out of contract this summer, reacted quickly when his initial header was blocked by Tom Flanagan, his follow-up clipping back off the same Sunderland player before it nestled in the back of the net.
There was no time for the Black Cats, beaten here in the EFL Trophy in March, to react.
And Charlton had to come from behind, as a mistake by Dillon Phillips saw Sunderland take the lead in the early stages. Naby Sarr’s backpass slipped past the Addicks stopper for an own goal.
But Charlton were level before the break as Ben Purrington – on loan from Rotherham United – tapped in at the back post from Lyle Taylor’s cross.
The second-half was cagey but the Addicks found a deliciously late goal to ensure that they are back in the Championship after a three-year absence.
Next up, surely, is a new contract for manager Lee Bowyer – his current terms running out at the end of June. In his first full season as manager he has led Charlton out of League One. And after play-off semi-final defeat last May, this time he walked up the steps to lift the trophy – but not before Jason Pearce and Chris Solly had raised the silverware first.
Bowyer went for the experience of Darren Pratley with the youthful exuberance of Albie Morgan not even making the matchday 18.
But elsewhere, the Addicks chief quelled the urge to bring in Pearce and Solly with Naby Sarr and Anfernee Dijksteel both rewarded for their strong form in the League One run-in.
Igor Vetokele’s quad injury, sustained on the final day of the regulation campaign, was always a season-ender although Charlton kept that information under wraps.
It means the Angolan is likely to have kicked his final ball for the club as his contract expires at the end of next month.
Sunderland named McGeady on their bench but their star man had not played in more than a month and had needed injections in his foot before that to feature in matches.
The Black Cats had not won in their last six matches at Wembley – losing four of them. Only Newcastle (eight) have a worse record.
But five of the last eight teams to finish third in League One – the position Charlton finished the campaign in – had not gone up via the play-offs.
This was a fifth visit to the national stadium for the SE7 outfit but first since 1998.
Charlton’s start was only one they would have dreamt about making in their nightmares. Sarr’s backpass was the sort that Phillips would have dealt with in their hundreds in training and other games – but this time he mis-read the roll of the ball – his desperate attempts to prevent the own goal ending in vain.
But the Charlton keeper showed mental strength to recover from that setback and produced an excellent save from Grant Leadbitter. His shot was curling into the bottom right corner but Phillips managed to push it around his left post.
It took the Addicks a while to recover from their early setback but they began to force a steady stream of corners.
Taylor drove a volley over the bar from Purrington’s diagonal cross.
It was the Rotherham loanee who made it 1-1. The triumvirate of Taylor, Joe Aribo and Anfernee Dijksteel combined well on the right of the box. Taylor’s cross was just missed by the diving Darren Pratley but Purrington tapped in at the back post with 35 minutes on the clock.
The second-half was cagey, with neither side able to stamp their authority on things.
Both managers brought on potential game-changers in Jonny Williams and McGeady respectively.
The latter did send one shot over the bar.
The goal was all about the quick reactions of Bauer. Williams took a quick free-kick and Josh Cullen swept the ball to the back post. Bauer’s initial header was blocked but he managed to convert at the second attempt.
The celebrations will last long into the night for Charlton fans. There have been plenty of depressing moments and setbacks in recent campaigns. This is a moment to enjoy.
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