If everything goes Sunderland’s way on Monday, the Black Cats could be in the Championship play-offs with a shot at promotion to the Premier League.
To do so, Tony Mowbray’s side would create history in the process – being only the third side to finish in the top six with fewer than 70 points in play-off history.
What’s more, if they were to actually win the play-offs, Sunderland would be making history as the side with the lowest points tally to gain promotion to the Premier League.
For once, ‘record low points total’ would have a happy ending for Sunderland, having been such a humiliation for us in our Premier League relegations of 2003 and 2006.
Here, we’ll take a look back over almost four decades of the play-offs and see how Sunderland’s tally stacks up against the other sides to have snuck into the knockout phase of the season.
Victory at Preston and one of two results going in our favour on Monday will see Sunderland finish in the top six with 69 points.
Before now, only one team has finished in the top six of the second tier with less than 70 points in the last 20 years – Leicester City with 68 in 2012-13.
In fact, there have only been two teams to have finished on fewer than 70 points in the 34-year history of the play-offs in their current guise – Middlesbrough qualifying with 69 in 1990-1.
Of course, there’s a chance two sides could finish with fewer than 70 points, which goes some way to demonstrate how unexpectedly weak the division has been, Burnley and arguably Sheffield United aside.
Daring to dream…
We are definitely counting chickens very much before they have hatched, but please indulge us – if Sunderland did finish in the top six, and were then promoted via the play-offs, they’d be doing so with the lowest points tally ever seen.
In 2009-10, Blackpool were promoted having finished in sixth with 70 points – and no other team has managed to seal promotion to the top flight with a lower points total, although Crystal Palace (2004) and West Ham (2005) both went up having finished sixth with 73 points, the former beating Sunderland in the semi-finals that season.
Palace were no strangers to sneaking into the top six and gaining promotion – they did the same in 1996-7, finishing sixth on 71 points and going on to win the play-off final under the twin towers of the old Wembley Stadium.
If we did the unthinkable, we’d be joining Palace as the only teams to have twice won promotion to the top flight having finished sixth.
In fact, we were the first team to achieve the feat, in 1990, when we also became the first and only team to be promoted having lost their play-off final, thanks to Swindon Town’s lovely financial irregularities.
The second part of this piece is a flight of fancy perhaps – to even be in the top six at the end of this season is a magnificent achievement in itself.
For Sunderland to then go on and contest a play-off campaign, and to then win at Wembley?
That’s the stuff of dreams, and probably up there with the most batshit crazy things to have ever happened to us, in our long, esteemed history of batshit crazy things.
Promoted after finishing sixth:
Crystal Palace (1997, 2004)
West Ham (2005)