Bet of the Day: Portsmouth to beat Sunderland and qualify for play-off final

14th September 2021

To say the last few years have been unkind to Sunderland would be putting it very mildly indeed. From a side that could, on its day, turn over even the top sides in the Premier League, the Black Cats turned very suddenly into a disastrous example of what mismanagement can do to a club. Two consecutive relegations took them from facing Manchester City twice a season and regular derbies with Newcastle, to finishing nine points behind Luton Town and ekeing out home draws with Accrington Stanley.

One side that’s had it rougher than the Wearsiders is Portsmouth, whose decline took them from winning the 2008 FA Cup to the brink of extinction, with a stay in League Two along the way. After that steep tumble, they have recently stabilised under new ownership, and won promotion to their present level in 2017. Tonight, they face Sunderland in the second leg of the League One promotion play-off semi-final. For both sides, a return to the Championship would mean they’re still at a lower level than they were ten years ago – but it would also represent a huge step in a recovery that neither could count on not so long ago.

Sunderland hold the upper hand

The first leg of this encounter took place on Saturday last, and saw Sunderland emerge with a narrow one-goal advantage courtesy of substitute Chris Maguire. That’s obviously a pretty tight margin – we’ve certainly seen bigger leads eroded in two-leg ties in the last week – and tonight’s visitors will be highly conscious that they’ll probably need at least one more goal to secure the tie. Pompey can boost their confidence by looking back to the league meeting the sides had at this stadium in December, when they came away with a 3-1 win; a repeat of that tonight would see them through on aggregate.

This match is a hard one to call. Over the course of the regular season, just three points separated these sides, with the South Coast club finishing fourth and Sunderland in fifth. We can therefore expect a tightly-fought contest this evening, and wouldn’t be counting on many goals across the 90 minutes. Paddy Power are offering 4/7 on fewer than 2.5 being scored, and with Sunderland likely to try defending their way to Wembley that seems like a smart bet to take.

Visitors have the star power

When a club suffers multiple relegations in consecutive years, it often leads to a situation where players who have starred at the top level suddenly find themselves “slumming it” in the lower reaches. Here, perhaps the best example of that phenomenon is Sunderland’s left-back Bryan Oviedo. Less than five years ago he was part of the Costa Rica squad that reached the World Cup quarter-finals only to lose on penalties to Holland. This evening he’ll be doing his level best to stay goal-side of Jamal Lowe. Portsmouth’s problems having started much longer ago, they no longer have a trace of the star power they used to have – but they arguably have the more cohesive side here.

Pompey certainly carry the greater goal threat, with Lowe being the top scorer from the two sides, and are able to call on Irish international Ronan Curtis as well as Omar Bogle. On loan from Cardiff, the latter has a direct and imposing style of play that could put pressure on the visiting defence. Sunderland could well come to regret not winning by more at the Stadium of Light, as we would fancy Portsmouth to have enough to win here – narrowly, for sure, but we certainly feel they merit the 6/5 favourites tag placed on them by Betway for this game.

Either side could make it to Wembley

One goal is not a big enough lead to really make Sunderland’s long-suffering fans feel confident for this evening’s game. The Championship play-off semi-finals both had single-goal margins after the first leg, and both saw those leads eclipsed over the course of 90 minutes. Add to that the fact that Sunderland are making the long trip from the North-East to the very South of the country, and there is more than enough reason to feel that Portsmouth have what it takes to build on their recent revival.

Most bookmakers have the visitors as odds-on favourites to progress, which we would put down almost entirely to the one-goal head-start they have this evening. It’s only natural that the bookies will play the percentages – but that doesn’t mean punters need to do likewise. Ladbrokes have priced Portsmouth at 7/4 to progress from this tie – and given that they only need to win by a single goal in 90 minutes and will have home advantage for any extra-time or penalties, we think that’s a punt worth taking. On balance, we’d expect Sunderland’s travails to continue for another season, while Portsmouth’s recovery could get a major boost here.

Bets of the Day

Portsmouth to qualify (7/4, Ladbrokes); Portsmouth to win (6/5, Betway); Fewer than 2.5 goals (Paddy Power, 4/7)

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