Sleeping giants Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland jostling for play-off redemption in League One

Between them they have won 10 First Division titles and five FA Cups.

They also have the biggest grounds outside the Premier League and in terms of capacity rankings, they are both in the top 12 in the country.

But for Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland, none of that matters right now. For at least one of them – or potentially both – will be spending another season in the third tier of English football. That is the bold reality for the fallen giants as they each attempt to plot a course to the Championship via the play-offs route.

It is the only option left to both clubs having left it too late to mount a push for the top two automatic slots.

For Wednesday, they are in their first campaign back at this level in almost a decade. Not that long ago they were within 90 minutes of a long-awaited top flight return but the intervening years have not been kind. Cost-cutting, poor recruitment, questionable managerial appointments and points deductions all led to the Owls’ seemingly inevitable relegation last season.

A constant throughout those turbulent times has been captain and talismanic midfielder Barry Bannan who first arrived at Wednesday in 2015. The Scot surprised many by opting to stay put at Hillsborough despite relegation at the end of last season but his performances have lived up to the billing this term, with nine goals and 12 assists a healthy return.

Barry Bannan has been a constant presence in the Wednesday midfield since his arrival in 2015

Which three clubs will get promoted to the Championship? Let us know in the comments

Speaking to Mirror Football , Bannan knows the importance of Wednesday escaping the division at the first time of asking.

He said: “You see teams like Sunderland who drop in and nearly get straight back. Then the next season they go in as favourites and they don’t quite get up. So it’s getting harder as a league. This is my first year in it and it’s been tough.

“All we’re focused on is getting this club up and out the division this season, whilst we can. There’s a lot of established Championship if not Premier League teams in it, and again that’ll be the case next year.”

Darren Moore is hoping to take Sheffield Wednesday straight back up after suffering a final-day relegation last term

Bannan’s inclusion in last week’s League One Team of the Season didn’t come as a surprise, given the quality he has shown. He also nabbed the Goal of the Season gong for his strike just a week prior – A 40-yard lob against MK Dons. Despite recognising those individual plaudits, the 32-year-old knows they will mean very little if Wednesday are still a third tier side come the start of next season.

“It’s good to get noticed but I’d happily give all these awards back to get my hands on the (play-off) trophy,” he added. “The others are just a bonus. If we can go up and get back to the Championship then I’ll look back on it as probably one of the most successful seasons in my career. But if we don’t go up, then it’s just another season that we’ve failed.”

Sunderland know what that feels like.

It is hard to comprehend that this is the Black Cats’ fourth consecutive campaign at this level after what seemed like an endless period of being Premier League regulars, albeit ones constantly involved in the battle against the drop.

Well-publicised tough times followed their Premier League exit in 2017, not least of all another demotion in quick succession. But Wearsiders would have expected to be back in the second tier by now. The past three seasons have seen them fall at the play-off stage twice, with the Covid-interrupted 2019-20 season seeing them miss out via the points-per-game method.

Alex Neil is the fourth man tasked with taking the club up out of a division they had spent just a single year in prior to 2018.

Sunderland are unbeaten in their last 12 league games heading into the crucial final day of the regular season

So far, since his appointment in February, he has improved results slowly but surely. Late goals have been a hallmark of the side and they are on a 12-game unbeaten run. Whilst Wednesday have been able to call on their magic man Bannan all season, Sunderland have been without star man Aiden McGeady since November.

But a timely fillip came when the 36-year-old was put through his paces before Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against Rotherham. There is a chance he could be back for Saturday’s trip to Morecambe but more likely is an outing in the play-offs – should Sunderland make it. “Aiden’s made good progress,” said Neil. “He’s been on the grass and is training with the lads so we’ll take a view.”

Aiden McGeady could return to aid Sunderland’s promotion push

Both Wednesday and Sunderland can guarantee their top-six spot with wins on the final day; Darren Moore’s side host Portsmouth whilst Sunderland make the trip to face the relegation-threatened Shrimps. There is a chance that a draw could be good enough for both.

But given the unpredictable nature of League One this season and the fact that another likely bunfight awaits next year ( with the addition of Derby to existing former PL sides Ipswich, Charlton and Portsmouth), neither side will want to take that chance.

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