IT'S TEARSIDE FOR REID BATTLERS; Charlton 4 Sunderland 4 (after extra time: 3-3 at 90 mins Charlton win 7-6 on pens); Dream is over after spot drama.
The South London side were just five minutes away from extinction and receivership in the High Court in 1984.
But after years of sharing grounds at Upton Park and Selhurst Park they eventually returned to their Valley home and now will entertain the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal next season.
Clive Mendonca's hat-trick will go down as one of the most priceless trebles in the shadow of the twin towers since Geoff Hurst delivered the Holy Grail in 1966.
And keeper Sasa Ilic's astonishing journey from a West End bar stool to the Premiership, via non-league St Leonards, will go down in legend as one of the soccer's most incredible fantasies.
Ilic raced off clutching the match ball after he saved Michael Gray's weak penalty after 13 successful kicks in the shoot-out.
Mendonca, Steve Brown, Keith Jones, Mark Kinsella, Mark Bowen, John Robinson and Shaun Newton had all been faultless against Lionel Perez.
And Ilic had already been beaten from 12 yards by Nicky Summerbee, Allan Johnston, Kevin Ball, Chris Makin, Alex Rae and Niall Quinn before he pounced on Gray's effort.
So Sunderland became the fourth victims of shoot-out melodrama since play-offs where settled by Russian Roulette.
They say you can't keep a good man down, but try telling that to Sunderland manager Peter Reid after another shattering dose of heartbreak in a familiar graveyard for the North East.
Reid will spend his summer cursing the automatic promotion place which escaped his men in the dying weeks of a long slog.
But he is more likely to rue his side squandering a two-goal lead against QPR on Good Friday, for instance, than their contribution to a fabulous occasion yesterday.
Just as Newcastle's travelling legions of black and white stripes turned Wembley into a zebra colony at the Cup final two weeks ago, Sunderland's dress code created a pantomime in red and white featuring 40,000 sticks of rock.
But Wearside's big day out was burdened from the outset by the North East's impoverished record at the famous old stadium for the last 25 yards.
Since Ian Porterfield's winner, Jim Montgomery's acrobatics and Bob Stokoe's war dance in a trilby in 1973, the place has been a graveyard for 12 sides from the Tees to the Tyne.
And for 45 minutes, Sunderland served up dreary, witless scuffling in the unhappiest traditions of the last quarter of a century.
Their monotonous diet of mortar shells towards 6ft 4in Quinn was woefully predictable, they were second best in midfield and young Darren Holloway's temperament was hopelessly inadequate for such high stakes.
Cheer up Peter Reid? Sunderland's daydream believers were so wretched they couldn't pass the salt.
And Charlton, South London's most lovable spendthrifts since Del Boy and Rodders were at large in Peckham High Street, needed only a modicum of efficiency to prevail.
Mendonca's 26th goal of the season after 23 minutes, an assassin's finish from Mark Bright's flick, was the least they deserved before the interval.
At that stage, Charlton's motley collection of old sweats and corner shop bargains looked much too streetwise for the Rokermen, and there was little hint of the thrills to follow.
Reid's pep talk must have contained more pyrotechnics than the pre-match fireworks because Sunderland, stranded in neutral, suddenly found overdrive on the gearbox.
Five minutes after the restart Summerbee's near-post corner caught Charlton napping and Quinn stooped to conquer with an emphatic header.
Then skipper Ball won a 50-50 aerial duel with Keith Jones and sent Kevin Phillips scampering through the Addicks rearguard to lob the advancing Ilic.
It was Phillips' 35th goal of term and took him past Brian Clough's club post-war record of 34 in a season. He used to clean Alan Shearer's boots at Southampton and, four years ago, Phillips was stacking TV's for a day job and turning out for non-league Baldock Town.
It is a travesty of justice that he won't be going head-to-head with Shearer at the Stadium of Light.
For Phillips, the contest would last only another 15 minutes before he retired hurt, nursing an assortment of bruises reserved only for the most elusive strikers.
But for the rest of us the pot was only just coming to the boil. After 71 minutes, Keith Jones' ball over the top picked out Mendonca, who took it exquisitely in his stride to restore parity and make it 2-2.
Just 60 seconds later, however, Charlton jubilation was stifled in 34,000 throats and once again the cloth cap ruled. Lee Clark crossed from the right, Danny Mills missed out at the far post and Quinn had time to load the chamber, cock the firing pin and pull the trigger on Ilic at his near post.
Roker sub Daniele Dichio, replacing the stricken Phillips, missed a yawning chance to score with his first touch and, just five minutes from the Premiership gateway, keeper Perez joined him in the stocks.
The out-of-contract Frenchman, for whom Wembley was almost certainly his farewell to English football, flapped at John Robinson's corner, got nowhere near it, and Richard Rufus sent this astonishing match into extra time with his first-ever goal.
By now both defences were too tired to batten down the hatches. A whole season's work was reduced not so much to who would crack first, but who would crack more often.
Eight minutes into the encore, Summerbee gave Sunderland the lead for the third time when his 15-yard shot, from Quinn's assist, fizzed past Ilic.
Now, surely, it was safe for Bryan Robson and Kenny Dalglish to unfurl the welcome mats and greet their neighbours' return to the big time.
Mendonca, a Sunderland supporter when he was still in short trousers, had other ideas.
Before Charlton had time to be consumed by despair and exhaustion, he had turned smartly on to Steve Jones' cross and completed a devastating hat-trick.
Not even Mendonca could wreak any more havoc before the beta-blockers came out, pacemakers were adjusted and the issue went to that cruellest of last resorts, the penalty shoot-out.
Unkind as they may be, but penalties were good enough to separate Brazil from Italy in the 1994 World Cup final.
And now they have cost Sunderland the chance to complete a reversal of fortune in which last season's three new tenants in the Premiership swap places again with the teams they unseated.
Gray will forever be haunted by Ilic's sprawl to intercept his daisy- cutter, but he need not chastise himself.
As Roberto Baggio will tell him, if penalties can decide a World Cup final they are good enough for Wembley.
The difference, of course, is that you don't get as much excitement as this in a World Cup final - not without Russian linesmen, at any rate.
CHARLTON: Ilic, Mills (Robinson 76), Bowen, K. Jones, Rufus, Youds, Newton, Kinsella, Bright (Brown 93), Mendonca, Heaney (S. Jones 65).
Booked: Kinsella, Mendonca, Rufus.
SUNDERLAND: Perez, Holloway (Makin 45), Gray, Clark (Rae 100), Craddock, Williams, Summerbee, Ball, Quinn, Phillips (Dichio 73), Johnston.
Booked: Holloway, Phillips, Williams.
Ref: Eddie Wolstenholme (Blackburn).
HOW THE GOALS WENT IN
23 minutes: Clive Mendonca turns past Jody Craddock on the edge of the Sunderland penalty box before firing a superb right-foot drive past Lionel Perez and into the far corner of the net. Charlton 1 Sunderland 0.
50 minutes: Nicky Summerbee's corner is headed in by Niall Quinn from the corner of the six-yard box. Charlton 1 Sunderland 1.
58 minutes: Kevin Phillips runs on to Kevin Ball's pass to chip Sasa Ilic and put Sunderland ahead. Charlton 1 Sunderland 2.
71 minutes: Mendonca grabs his second, shrugging off Craddock and drilling the ball past Perez. Charlton 2 Sunderland 2.
73 minutes: Quinn controls a cross and beats Ilic at his near post. Charlton 2 Sunderland 3.
85 minutes: Richard Rufus heads Charlton level, nodding the ball into an empty net after Perez missed a corner. Charlton 3 Sunderland 3.
99 minutes: Niall Quinn releases Nicky Summerbee and he drills the ball past Ilic from 15 yards. Charlton 3 Sunderland 4.
103 minutes: Mendonca completes his hat-trick, controlling the ball before hooking it past Perez from close range. Charlton 4 Sunderland 4.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||May 26, 1998|
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