Sunderland secured their place in the top six of the Championship in a thrilling final day as they beat Preston North End, who were also battling to make one of the coveted spots, 3-0 away from home.
The Black Cats head into the play-offs on a nine-game unbeaten run in the division and host Luton Town at the Stadium of Light in the first leg of their semi-final tie on Saturday.
Amad Diallo, Jack Clarke, and Alex Pritchard all found the back of the net at Deepdale to land the three points and a sixth-placed finish in the league.
Tony Mowbray’s talented attacking group have played some enjoyable football throughout the campaign and the contributions of the forwards have played a huge role in their success this season.
Amad has been on loan from Manchester United and caught the eye with a series of stunning performances – scoring 13 goals and providing three assists in 37 Championship matches as an attacking midfielder.
However, the Ivory Coast international was not the true hero of Sunderland’s play-off charge as one of his attacking counterparts enjoyed an arguably more influential season – Jack Clarke.
How did Jack Clarke perform this season?
The former Tottenham Hotspur winger was sensational out on the left flank throughout the year and led the play-off push with his ability to change and win matches with his quality on the ball.
Amad provided a huge goal threat but did not offer as much in the way of creativity for others and Clarke was able to combine both sides of the game to make himself a nightmare for opposition defences.
The English dynamo ended the regular season with nine goals and 11 assists across 45 games, having missed just one outing, and this means that he was directly involved in four more goals than the United loanee.
He also created a whopping 77 chances and seven ‘big chances’ throughout the campaign in comparison to Amad’s 41 key passes and four ‘big chances’ created.
Clarke, who averaged a Sofascore rating of 7.00 in the second tier, was previously described by ex-Premier League forward Noel Whelan as “exciting” and “effortless” in the way he takes the ball past opposition players, which is backed up by his two completed dribbles per game this term – compared to his Ivorian teammate’s 1.7.
These statistics illustrate the impact that the £15k-per-week winger had in Mowbray’s team this season and highlights why he was the real hero of the play-off charge as no Black Cats player – including Amad – was involved in as many goals as the attacker and his thrilling play out wide has been a joy to watch over the last nine months.