BY LOUIS MENDEZ
Charlton looked set for more play-off semi-final heartbreak before Darren Pratley bundled in what he says is the most vital goal of his career.
The South Londoners, who were eliminated at the same stage against Shrewsbury last season, had just fallen behind to Doncaster Rovers as John Marquis’ header edged the Yorkshire outfit 4-3 ahead on aggregate in extra-time.
But Pratley levelled up within twenty seconds of the restart to send the tie to penalties – where the Addicks would triumph as Tommy Rowe sent a decisive spot-kick wide.
“When Marquis scored, it was a little bit down and we thought the game may be over,” explained Pratley, who scored in a Championship play-off semi-final for Swansea back in 2011.
“Luckily enough, Lyle put in a good cross and I managed to get on the end of it. I think it was a minute or two after they scored, so in terms of importance it is probably the most important goal I’ve scored. We need to get promoted for the club. It’s a big club, a London club. The boys have worked so hard all year so it would be great for us to get promoted at Wembley.
“Playing in front of a big crowd is different. Our fans were fantastic tonight. Even when it might have looked like we were on the wrong end of the tie, the momentum was swinging and going the other way, they kept us going and stuck by us. That result is for them tonight. We’ll get to Wembley next week and they’ll pack it out again. It does prepare you in some ways but it doesn’t prepare you because Wembley is a totally different arena. All the lads are buzzing and we’re looking forward to playing there. It’s one of the best stadiums in the world and that’s where you want to be playing.”
Lee Bowyer’s side will face-off against Sunderland for a place in the Championship on Sunday – a repeat of the infamous 1998 First Division play-off final, which the South Londoners won on penalties after a breathless 4-4 draw.
“I’ve heard a few things around the training ground (about 1998),” said Pratley.
“Some of the staff mention it to us. They kept on saying when it was Sunderland that they think it could be a repeat of that. We came out on top so hopefully we can get the same result. Sunderland are a very good side.
“Sunderland are a massive club. They came down last year, they’re expected to go up. I think we probably will be underdogs. It’s going to be a tough game and one we’re looking forward to.
“Maybe to everyone else, we’ll be underdogs. We fancy ourselves against anyone. We’re not going into this game building ourselves up to be underdogs. Maybe to everyone else outside, Sunderland are a massive club who have just come down from the Championship. We’re not going into the game using that as motivation that we’re the underdogs. We believe we are good players. We’re not putting ourselves down. We’ll be going there on an even keel with Sunderland. Over the ninety minutes, whoever is the best team on the day will go up.
“[Bowyer] has been brilliant. He’s done well for us. Hopefully we can go that one step further and get promoted and get his contract and all that sorted so we can have him for next year.”