They might have made hard work of it, but Sunderland are now one game from returning to the Championship after a year away.
Chris Maguire’s stunning volley that separated the two sides in the first leg of this League One play-off semi-final was enough to send Jack Ross’s side to Wembley where they await either Charlton or Doncaster, who play on Friday night.
For Portsmouth, it means another season away from the Championship. Portsmouth chairman Michael Eisner called this the biggest match since relegation from the second tier and administration in 2012.
He, like most Pompey fans, will wonder how his side didn’t score and at least force this into extra-time.
How Sunderland’s goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin was given such an easy night with Portsmouth’s best efforts directed at him.
The significant news ahead of the second leg was Alim Ozturk’s availability after Sunderland successfully appealed his red card from the match at the Stadium of Light. Ozturk became Sunderland’s clearance specialist towards the end as every ball that came his way was ballooned towards the Portsmouth half.
Fans were asked to arrive early following the arrest of a 22-year-old man for threatening to kill supporters inside the ground.
Bathed in sunshine, the supporters arrived in hope they would see their side at least draw level due to the number of goals Kenny Jackett’s side have scored this season. In total this season, they have scored 109 goals in 61 matches.
In total this season, they have score an impressive haul of 109 goals from 61 matches. Twenty of those came in the last 10 games of the season. Before the second leg, the attacking quadruple of Lowe, Curtis, Evans and Hawkins had 45 goals between them. Lowe tops the club’s charts with 16.
Indeed, Evans was fortunate to still be on the pitch when his boot connected with the face of Lee Cattermole with the game only two minutes old. Referee Peter Bankes deemed Evans to have gone for the ball and let the attacker off with a yellow card.
Another incident followed soon afterwards and again it could have been a sending off – this time for Sunderland Maguire. In frustration, after the ball had gone out, he threw the ball in the face of Portsmouth’s Tom Naylor. Again, Bankes only went as far as cautioning the player.
Portsmouth had failed to have an attempt on target for 43 minutes before Evans headed straight at Sunderland goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin after Lee Brown’s cross was flicked on by Oli Hawkins. Matt Clarke had the next chance for Portsmouth but his header was six yards went over.
Hope of Eisner’s perfect scenario, the one he had been wanting for seven years, was slowly fading away.
Bryan Oviedo, one of five Sunderland players still getting paid Premier League money, lashed an effort over the bar shortly after half-time. Oviedo was one of the players Sunderland were happy to keep in League One but it left them with a very swollen wage bill.
It dwarves that of every other side in the division and sellout crowds can only sustain the club’s balance sheet for so long. They managed to get it down from £20million to £11m before the start of the season. The average for League One is around £4m with clubs spending more than that expected to push for the title or, at the very least, automatic promotion.
They play football that perhaps warrants a place in the second tier. They still play through Cattermole in midfield and then aim for the wings. It is from there they try to find the penalty area or cut back to those arriving late but their usual formula wasn’t working.
They weren’t as mobile as Portsmouth, who made a break down the left wing once more with left back Brown. His cross was dangerous and of a height Hawkins could attack but, like Evans, his header was easily claimed by McLaughlin.
There was a confrontation with a Portsmouth fan when Luke O’Nien was bundled into the crowd. Bankes diffused the situation but Cattermole wasn’t happy.
Former Sunderland striker James Vaughan, one of Cattermole’s former team-mates, came on deep into the second half. Vaughan was booed as he came on but had a chance to silence the visiting fans when he was left free at the back post.
He had to stoop for the header but even so he should have done better and McLaughin saved comfortably.
Another chance gone but still Portsmouth pushed forward until eventually they had run out of options and time.