Nathan Broadhead's cameo opens the door to a Wembley outing as Sunderland chase play-off success
Nathan Broadhead's late cameo in Sunderland's play-off semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday has sparked hopes that he could be in contention for the Wembley final. Broadhead scored the winning goal in the Black Cats' final game of the season at Morecambe before suffering a muscle injury that meant he missed the first leg of the semi-final against the Owls at the Stadium of Light at the end of last week.
Alex Neil was giving little away about the fitness of the on-loan Everton striker in the run-up to that first leg, and again in the build-up to the second leg on Monday night. But when the teamsheet came out for the return leg at Hillsborough, Broadhead was named amongst the subs.
And while he was only given the briefest of run-outs, entering the action in the seventh of ten minutes of added time, the fact that he was back on the pitch at all is a sign that he could play a larger role when Sunderland meet Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley a week on Saturday. "It was good to get him on the pitch," said Neil.
"He wasn't full-tilt, so I put him on the bench in reserve."
Broadhead scored five goals in seven games in April to help Sunderland book their place in the play-offs, earning him a nomination for League One Player of the Month.
Neil has often been praised for being proactive and making changes early in games, but he took a different tack against the Owls. Sunderland, who were leading 1-0 after the first leg, were performing well in the return game and even when Wednesday levelled the tie on aggregate Neil kept faith with his gameplan which meant leaving the personnel unchanged because he did not have direct replacements on the bench.
His approach worked, with Jack Clarke setting up Patrick Roberts to score the injury-time goal which restored parity on the night and put Sunderland 2-1 ahead on aggregate. And only then did Neil make changes, bringing on fresh legs in the shape of Broadhead, Callum Doyle, and Jay Matete, to close out the game.
He said: "The difficulty I had was changing it [the game] because we were going to lose trickery and pace off the flanks and we didn't have any more of those type of players available on the bench for that one. I didn't want to change that because I felt it was the key to us getting a goal, and it was."