By Terry Phillips
Welshman Adam Matthews has set his heart on a return to Championship football next season.
Swansea-born Matthews, who spent more than a decade with the Bluebirds, is in Sunderland’s match-day squad for Sunday’s League One play-off final against Charlton Athletic at Wembley Stadium.
There is, though, no certainty about the immediate future of the 27-year-old Wales international because his four-year contract ends this summer.
Matthews is set for talks with club officials after the final, although it looks certain he will be asked to take a wage cut.
But at least three Championship clubs – Sheffield Wednesday, Queens Park Rangers and Barnsley – are all keen on Matthews.
He is one of the Black Cats’ biggest earners, one of four remaining players who joined in the club’s Premier League era.
While Matthews is coming to the end of his deal, Lee Cattermole, Brian Oviedo and Donald Love can play on next season.
If Sunderland win against Charlton at Wembley there is the possibility Matthews will be offered a new deal, although it would be on reduced terms.
Former Penyrheol School, Swansea pupil Matthews was a Liverpool fan growing up and joined his home city club on trial.
He also attracted strong interest from Ospreys rugby union club, but chose football.
A broken arm halted Matthews’ progress at Swansea and he was told to go back when he was fit. But when he went back to Swansea, the eight-year-old Matthews was told there was no room in their academy.
He then attended a Bluebirds’ youth trial at Port Talbot FC along with 40 other footballers and was the lone player offered a deal by Cardiff.
After making his way through the youth side, Matthews signed a professional contract in January 2009 and went on to make more than 48 first team appearances.
He was voted Football League Apprentice of the Year for the Championship was still a teenager when he joined Celtic and earned a number of winners medals in Scottish football.
Matthews signed for Sunderland in 2015 and has made 67 first team appearances.
They were pre-season favourites to win League One, having been a Premier club only a couple of years earlier,
But 19 draws in 46 league games left them fifth, six points off the automatic promotion places.
“I was clear in my ambition to get the club back to the Championship at the first time of asking,” says 42-year-old manager Jack Ross, who succeeded Chris Coleman exactly a year ago on Saturday.
While Matthews hopes to be playing for Sunday, opponents Charlton have three Welsh players in their squad.
Wales international Jonny Williams, a former Sunderland player, and St Asaph-born former Wrexham and Welsh Premier League goalkeeper Chris Maxwell are in Charlton’s squad along with former Swansea City midfield player Darren Pratley.
Williams was born in Pembury, Kent, qualifies for Wales because his father was born on Anglesey and joined Crystal Palace at the age of eight.
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) May 26, 2019
He was sent out on loan a number of times before finally leaving Selhurst Park at 25-years-old to sign for Charlton in January this year.
Williams, who played for Wales in the Euro 2016 semi-final defeat against Portugal, has had a lot of good luck messages from Palace fans during the build-up to this afternoon’s play-off final.
He was given the nickname ‘Joniesta’ during his time with Palace and agreed to join Charlton after talking to Addicks’ manager Lee Bowyer.
“The gaffer made it clear Charlton wanted me on the ball,” says Williams. “For me, that was a big deal because managers in the past haven’t noticed my strengths “I’d be stuck on the wing where you don’t get the best out of me. Mick McCarthy played me in a similar position and wanted me central to things and I found myself playing with confidence and being twice the player I was.
“I need that confidence at times and I didn’t always have it at Palace because I felt I was feeding off scraps and having to find it from within myself.
“If you keep getting knocked back it’s hard to do that.”
Charlton finished third in League One, two places and three points ahead Sunderland.
The team finishing fifth in the third tier – Sunderland this season – have not gained promotion via the play-offs since Barnsley in 2005-06.
The Yorkshire club defeated Swansea City 4-3 in a penalty shootout at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Midfield player Stephen McPhail completed his transfer from Barnsley to Cardiff City soon after Barnsley’s success.
Now Matthews is intent on helping Sunderland back into the Football League second tier – and he’s ready to face fellow Welshmen ‘Joniesta’ Williams and Chris Maxwell.