SIXTY games, and it all comes down to this. Even without stoppage time, Sunderland have already played a remarkable 5,430 minutes of football this season. Yet the final 90, or perhaps 120, will decide everything. A season’s worth of work condensed into one afternoon.

There will be some that claim a place in the League One play-off final is a failure no matter what happens on Sunday. Sunderland are the biggest club in the third tier, with the biggest stadium and biggest average attendance. In January, they were able to commit £4m to the signing of Will Grigg. For the season to have been a success, they would have had to finish ahead of either Luton Town or Barnsley to win automatic promotion.

Yet that is to ignore the calamitous state that Sunderland were in as last season drew to an end. Rock bottom of the Championship, without a permanent manager in place, administration was a very real possibility as Ellis Short looked to engineer an exit strategy from the Stadium of Light. Having watched their side suffer back-to-back relegations, many understandably frustrated fans had simply given up.

That was the situation Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven inherited when they took control of the club at the start of last summer, and it was the environment Jack Ross walked into when he agreed to leave St Mirren to take over as boss of the Black Cats.

Slowly, patiently, successfully, the trio have led Sunderland out of the darkness and back into the light. It hasn’t always been perfect – too many draws meant automatic promotion went out of the window – and fears still exist about the current regime’s ability to fund a climb back through the leagues. But after two years of horrendous underachievement, at least Sunderland supporters can take pride in following a club that is heading back in the right direction.

The bond with the fanbase has been restored thanks to some welcome openness and well-received supporter initiatives, and on the pitch, Sunderland’s players have given their all in an attempt to secure promotion.

There have been some notable highs along the way, from the remarkable sight of almost 8,000 travelling supporters witnessing the New Year’s Day win at Blackpool to the outpouring of emotion that accompanied the final whistle at Portsmouth last week. There have been lows too, not the least the humiliation of conceding five goals at home to Coventry, with the experience of the Checkatrade Trophy final somewhere in between.

Sunday’s final offers an opportunity to conclusively draw a line under March’s Wembley defeat, and also provides a chance for Sunderland to avenge 1998’s First Division play-off final suffering at the hands of Charlton Athletic.

Ultimately, though, both of those things are a side-show. This is Sunderland’s shot at promotion, with a place in the Championship heading either their way or Charlton’s.

Back in August, life in League One began with a game against the Addicks. Hopefully, come Sunday night, it will have ended in the same way.