A minute to win it – how our fortunes changed inside one mad 60 seconds on the final day

We look back on a breathless final day in the Championship. And what a day!

“This club man, for fuck’s sake, this club.”

In a day of joy, despair, elation, relief and ultimate victory, these were the words that summed it up the most.

They came from a Sunderland supporter at around 4.20pm on Monday, head in hands, slumped in a seat he had just taken for the first time in around an hour of football.

It was midway through the second half, and he was just one of the 5,700 crammed into Deepdale’s Bill Shankly Kop to witness the denouement of a Championship season with all the thrills and spills you’d expect from one of the most exciting leagues in European football.

His side had just gone 2-0 up at the same time as word was reaching supporters that Blackburn Rovers had equalised at The New Den. 60 seconds that propelled Sunderland into the play-offs, now facing a shot at the Premier League.

With 45 games behind them, 24 teams kicked off their 46th fixture at 12 venues dotted around the country. But while it takes 46 games to tell the story of a season, Sunderland’s fortunes were effectively decided inside that single minute.

In a season that has lurched away from the Black Cats and back again, seemingly a thousand times over, this – when Alex Pritchard and Ben Brereton-Diaz curled in spectacular goals to extend Sunderland’s lead and equalise for Blackburn respectively – was the moment where we were allowed to believe that this could be actually happening.

Here how’s the day panned out.

The Context

Going into the final day of the season, there were four games with five sides vying for qualification to the Championship play-offs – with promotion to the Premier League the ultimate goal.

Those five sides were Coventry, Blackburn, Millwall, West Brom and Sunderland.

Albion had an outside chance of making it, but needed to win by a cricket score and other results to go in their direction to stand a chance. Spoiler alert, they lost, and the results didn’t go in their direction.

For Sunderland, the permutations were simple enough – beat Preston at Deepdale, and for one of either Middlesbrough-Coventry and Millwall-Blackburn to go their way.

A draw at The New Den would have been enough as Sunderland’s goal difference was the best of the five.

All Sunderland could do is win their game, and then the rest was up to the others.

The day

3.00 – Kick off

3.07 – Millwall take the lead against Blackburn through former Sunderland midfielder Duncan Watmore

3.11 – Millwall have a goal disallowed

3.22 – Blackburn equalise through Adam Wharton. With Middlesbrough and Coventry still level and Sunderland goalless,  Coventry and Millwall in 5th and 6th respectively

3.23 – Gustavo Hamer opens the scoring for Coventry at The Riverside, which would be enough to secure fifth place. Sunderland know at this stage if Millwall-Blackburn was to stay level, all the Black Cats would need to do is win.

3.37 – Millwall take the lead again, through Duncan Watmore. Bollocks. With Coventry and Millwall ahead, even a win for Sunderland would not be enough.

3.37 – Liam Delap is through on goal for Preston but drags his shot wide of Anthony Patterson’s goal. A reprieve.

3.39 – Millwall make it 3-1 courtesy of Oliver Burke. Shit.

3.49 – Middlesbrough equalise through Cameron Archer. Hang on…

As the half-time whistles sounded at Deepdale, The Riverside and The New Den, Millwall and Coventry were play-off bound.

Opta, meanwhile, calculated Sunderland’s chances of qualification at 8%.

It’s safe to say half-time at Deepdale was subdued. Sure, Sunderland hadn’t played badly, but Preston had the lion’s share of the chances and should have been 1-0 up. At the other end, Joe Gelhardt should have done better with a chance when slipped in by Pierre Ekwah, and Freddie Woodman had made a couple of saves, but Preston’s chance wasn’t just gilt-edged, it was encrusted with diamonds.

While the equaliser at Middlesbrough was a relief, Sunderland still needed to get the job done at Preston. Easy.

The second half

4.08 – Blackburn pull it back to 3-2. They couldn’t, could they?

4.14 – Patrick Roberts’ shot is blocked and Amad Diallo curls in a perfect shot into the top corner, turning the Bill Shankly Kop into a washing machine of human beings as people tumble forwards, backwards and sideways in jubilation. Game. On. But results still need to go our way elsewhere.

4.15 – A false call that Boro had taken the lead starts somewhere near the front of the Bill Shankly Kop, a lie that makes it all the way to the back of the stand before the truth has a chance to get its act together. Collective checkings of smartphone apps confirm it is, well, bollocks. But good to know that the entire end was working together as one neural network.

4.19 – Ben Brereton-Diaz, the beautiful man, turns everything on its head by curling in a superb shot to make it 3-3. As it stands, Millwall and Sunderland are level on points with 69 but Sunderland edge it on goal difference.

4.20 – As word reaches the Sunderland fans of the goal in London, Alex Pritchard ignores passing to Roberts and instead curls a shot past Woodman to make it 2-0. Cue the washing machine hitting its second spin.

4.24 – Jack Clarke surges forward and curls home Sunderland’s third of the afternoon and effectively sealing victory for the visitors. At this point, tops have come off and the away end is a sea of limbs.

4.43 – Brereton-Diaz makes it 4-3 to Blackburn which puts the Lions fully out of contention, completing a three-goal comeback. News reaches Preston, and the away end erupts all over again.

4.52 – Full-time at The New Den. Sunderland are home and dry barring a disaster.

4.54 – Full-time at Deepdale. Play-offs secured.

4.55 – Full-time at The Riverside. Coventry’s place in the play-offs assured.

The Championship produces moments like this year on year, but this was the first time Sunderland were part of that. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen to Sunderland.

Monday, though, was different. Incredible. Sensational.

We need now to do this all again. Two games to decide it. Then another. Then what?

“This club, man. This club.”