PLENTY of Sunderland’s players will be heading into the play-offs with a wrong to right. Tom Flanagan, Luke O’Nien, Max Power, Chris Maguire, Lynden Gooch, Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke were all members of the squad that lost to Charlton at Wembley in 2019. Grant Leadbitter played in that game, and was also in the Middlesbrough team that suffered play-off heartbreak at the hands of Norwich City in 2015.

Carl Winchester hasn’t experienced the play-offs with Sunderland, but thanks to his experiences with Forest Green Rovers, his memories of the annual end-of-season shootout are hardly happy ones.

Back in 2019, while Sunderland were edging out Portsmouth to set up their Wembley showdown with Charlton, Winchester was lining up for Forest Green in the League Two play-off semi-final against Tranmere.

The first leg, at Prenton Park, ended in a 1-0 win to Tranmere, but Forest Green put themselves back in the driving seat when Joseph Mills opened the scoring for the home side in the second leg at the New Lawn.

Then, however, everything unravelled. Tranmere equalised on the night, putting themselves 2-1 ahead on aggregate, and Forest Green’s hopes of a revival were effectively extinguished in the 67th minute when Winchester was sent off for a second yellow card. Having started the night dreaming of Wembley, the midfielder ended it with an early bath.

“That’s my play-off experience,” said Winchester, who will be hoping to force his way into the starting line-up for Sunderland’s semi-final first leg at Lincoln a week tomorrow. “I was involved at Forest Green, but unfortunately I got sent-off.

“A lot of the lads have been through it, and they know how hard it can be. That’s always good to have as they'll know what it takes to get us over the line.”

As a club, Sunderland’s play-off record is dreadful, but Winchester is adamant that should not be a factor when he and his team-mates attempt to secure a place in the Championship over the course of the next three weeks.

Having moved from Forest Green in January, the 28-year-old still finds himself amazed by the talent that now surrounds him. Lee Johnson’s squad might have missed out on automatic promotion, but Winchester remains convinced they more than merit a place in the second tier.

“I’ve come from Forest Green, so it’s my first time at a club like this,” he said. “Since I’ve walked through the door, the talent I’ve seen is frightening. It’s much better than this level, so hopefully we’re capable of showing that in the play-offs.

“If Lincoln are watching us, they'll probably think, ‘Oh Sunderland', but I believe in the squad and know what we can produce when we’re on it, and it’s a match for anyone in this league.”

Sunderland signed off for the regular season with a nondescript draw with Northampton, but while Sunday’s game will be quickly forgotten by most of those who witnessed it, Winchester will remember it fondly forever.

The midfielder claimed his first Sunderland goal as he stabbed home in the 87th minute after Jordan Jones’ floated cross had rebounded off the inside of both posts, and while there was an element of fortune to being in the right place at the right time, Winchester has made a point of trying to increase the effectiveness of his breaks into the 18-yard box.

“Last week against Plymouth, I had a couple of opportunities where I should have scored,” he said. “I’m always trying to get in the box."