On Saturday, Sunderland defeated Portsmouth 1-0 to give themselves the advantage in the first-leg of the League One Play-off semi-finals.
Here are five things we learned from the result:
Jack Ross had a big decision to make before kick off as Aiden McGeady pulled out of the starting XI. He either had to play Lynden Gooch or Chris Maguire - he opted for the American.
Gooch played very well, and that decision was vindicated, but the introduction of Maguire just before the hour mark was the turning point in this tight game.
Maguire was everywhere, causing chaos to the Portsmouth defence and he got himself on the scoresheet with a superb volley from just inside the box.
That goal sent the 26,610 fans at the Stadium of Light into raptures and gave the lads a slender advantage heading into Thursday’s game at Fratton Park.
Sunderland are seeking their third successful appeal against a red card this season after Alim Ozturk looked to have been harshly dismissed late in the second half.
The previous appeals, Max Power against Walsall and Chris Maguire against Luton, were successful and a hat-trick of successful appeals would be an unlikely milestone.
Andy Woolmer, referee for the evening, adjudged Ozturk to have brought down Gareth Evans and prevented him a goal scoring opportunity.
Replays showed that Ozturk got a significant touch on the ball and even if he didn’t, Evans was heading towards the corner flag rather than the Sunderland net.
Whether the decision is overturned remains in the balance, but it would be a shame to see Ozturk miss the second leg due to a questionable decision.
Pompey stopper Craig MacGillivary must love playing against Sunderland as he has continually put in top notch saves to deny the Black Cats goals.
Last night was no different, as he pulled off a remarkable save from a close-range George Honeyman header to keep the game at 0-0.
At the Stadium of Light two weeks ago he was the man of the match as he made a dozen quality saves and it looked like he would be keeping the score down again last night.
Fortunately, former Pompey player Maguire scored a goal that was unstoppable which meant that MacGillivary couldn’t frustrate Sunderland fans again.
HISTORY OF THE SECOND LEG
Not since 2013 has a team won the first-leg of a League One Play-Off semi-final and not made the final.
That year, Sheffield United saw their 1-0 lead from the first-leg overturned by Yeovil TOWN who beat them 2-0 at Huish Park.
Since then, here is the record:
2014: No play-off first leg win
2015: Chesterfield 0-1 Preston
Sheffield United 1-2 Swindon
Preston 3-0 Swindon
Swindon 5-5 Sheffield United
Barnsley 3-0 Walsall
Bradford 1-3 Millwall
Walsall 1-3 Barnsley
Millwall 1-1 Bradford
Bradford 1-0 Fleetwood
(Other tie was a draw)
Fleetwood 0-0 Bradford
Charlton 0-1 Shrewsbury
(Other tie was a draw)
Shrewsbury 1-0 Charlton
So, there we have it, over the last five years, teams who win the first-leg have a 100% record of going through. Hopefully I haven’t jinxed it!
FIRST CLEAN SHEET IN FIVE
It is fair to say that Sunderland entered the Play-Offs in poor form having lost their final two games and only winning one of their previous seven.
Pundits often say that form is irrelevant for these games, and that the Play-Offs are a clean slate for everyone to start afresh.
Last night, the Black Cats not only won the game, but kept their first clean sheet in five attempts.
That is all the more impressive when you consider that Pompey had scored in their last 12 consecutive games – they were last kept off the score sheet by promoted Barnsley.
And when you factor in the fact that Sunderland played the final 25 minutes with 10-men – you see how impressive that clean sheet really was.