Flashback: Sunderland 4-4 Charlton – The Greatest Playoff Match of all Time?

There have been a number of absorbing play-off encounters over the years, but there is one end-of-season match that tends to stand head and shoulders above the rest. 

Sunderland 4-4 Charlton remains one of the most entertaining and absurdly high-scoring fixtures to have taken place at Wembley in the last 25 years, and we look back at this action-packed, thrill-a-minute contest. 


May 25th, 1998 is a day that is still remembered fondly by many Charlton fans, with the Addicks securing promotion to the top flight, following a hugely entertaining play-off encounter against Sunderland. The match, which was played at Old Wembley remains the highest-scoring playoff fixture to date, with over 77,000 spectators unable to take their eyes off the drama unfolding in front of them.
It was a heartbreaking conclusion to a fantastic day out for the Sunderland fans as Michael Gray’s costly penalty miss consigned them to another season of second-tier football. 
There were just two points between these two sides going into this fixture, with Kevin Phillips’ crucial goal helping see off Sheffield United in the semi-finals whilst Charlton eased past Ipswich to book their place in the showpiece event. 
The pair played out a goalless draw earlier in the season with the return fixture yielding just two goals, and very few experts could have predicted an eight-goal thriller in West London. 

Clive Mendonca, a player who grew up on Wearside, was Charlton’s hero, netting a hat-trick for Alan Curbishley’s side, with Richard Rufus also getting on the score-sheet. Nicky Summerbee’s extra-time strike put Sunderland in the driving seat, but Mendonca popped up yet again to deny his boyhood club. 

Source: Historic Sports Pictures via Twitter

Neutrals were glued to their television screens as these two sides traded blows throughout the 120 minutes, and the penalty shoot-out was also suitably entertaining. With all ten designated players converting from the spot, it came down to sudden death, and Sasa Ilic was Charlton’s hero, denying Gray from twelve yards.

It left many of the travelling Mackems in tears, although both sets of supporters were understandably exhausted following an energy-sapping afternoon in the sun. 

The result enabled Charlton to return to the top flight for the first time in nine seasons, although Curbishley’s men swiftly returned to the second tier following a disappointing top-flight campaign.

They were replaced by the Black Cats, who finished as first division champions the following season, thus avoiding the rigmarole of the end-of-season play-offs once again.
Despite their ups and downs, the pair have faced one another several times since, and there is still the possibility that they could meet again in the League One play-offs at the end of the 2018-19 season.

The Black Cats were expected to return to the second tier this year, and they are currently priced at evens for promotion in the latest football betting, with the Addicks available at 9/2. 

The game was played out in blistering sunshine, and there are still re-runs of this thrilling denouement to the First Division season broadcast by Sky Sports on a regular basis. There have been a number of entertaining play-off fixtures over the past couple of decades, but none of them have come close to matching the sheer drama of May 25th, 1998. 

Five Reasons why Italian Football in the mid-90s was Amazing

Flashback: England 5-1 Germany – Three Lions Expects and Finally Delivers