In just over a week’s time, Sunderland and their army of fans will head to Wembley for the League One play-off final for the second time in the space of three years as the Black Cats take on Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers.
Following a very tense two-legged affair against Sheffield Wednesday, the Wearsiders will have yet another chance to make it back to the Championship – their last came in 2019 when they lost out to Charlton Athletic in extra time.
Alex Neil arrived in February with Sunderland on a losing streak of three matches, but since the Scot’s appointment they have lost just once on their way to being potentially 90 minutes away from the second tier once again.
Quiz: Which club did Sunderland sign these 24 players from in the 2000s?
Neil replaced Lee Johnson in the dugout at the Stadium of Light, and at the time of his departure the club were still sitting in third position in League One.
A 6-0 humiliation at the hands of Bolton Wanderers though was the final straw for the hierarchy, who ended up parting company with Johnson after just over a year in charge.
There are no hard feelings from the man who started the club’s push for promotion this season though, with Johnson sending a message to Sunderland ahead of their date with destiny next week.
“I feel very privileged to have had the honour of coaching what I see as an iconic club in the country, an absolutely fantastic football club with great people, a fan base which is phenomenal,” Johnson told Sky Sports.
“They are churning out 34,000 in League One on a regular basis.
“I think in general terms we did an excellent job, there were a lot of successes in that period and I wish them all the best and am rooting for them to get promotion this year.”
Even though Johnson may have divided opinion amongst Sunderland fans with his management style and his mannerisms, there’s no denying that he’s helped the Black Cats to where they are today.
He pushed the club from mid-table in 2020-21 and into the play-offs, where they just fell short against Lincoln, and for a lot of his time in charge during the current campaign they were in and around the top two.
The club though did not feel he was the right man to lead them to promotion, and in Alex Neil the results have stabilised and Sunderland definitely look a lot more solid defensively.
Time will tell if the Scot can finish the short-term job he was brought in for, but for Johnson the play-off final may be a painful watch considering he probably feels like he should be the one still in the hot-seat.