The next time we’ll be watching Sunderland it’ll be as Jack Ross and his men fight for silverware in the nation’s capital. It’s an incredibly exciting prospect - a chance for the team to bring pride to fans all over the world.
Tens of thousands of fans will make the pilgrimage to London where swatches of red and white will undoubtedly line the streets of Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. Off-licenses will be bare, the night’s sky will be heavy with the honeyed tones of Sunderland fans showing their passion, loyalty, and determination to find success.
For fans, this coming final is both a celebration and a spark of hope - a chance for immediate success after seasons of despair, and a hope that a brighter lies ahead for the club.
Moving into the game, the approach adopted by Ross will be an incredibly important factor, and with options available to the Scot - how will the Black Cats’ manager approach this incredibly important game?
Defensively, Jack Ross has a genuine quandary on his hands. Jack Baldwin, Tom Flanagan, and Jimmy Dunne are the current triumvirate many consider to be Ross’ first-team options in central defence.
But, in recent times, none of the aforementioned trio has cast themselves in any real glory. As such, Jack Ross now has a difficult decision to make with regard to who starts in the heart of Sunderland’s defence in order to ensure the Lads leave Wembley with silverware in hand.
Elsewhere in defence, Jack Ross will have to decide which player will occupy the left side of Sunderland's back four. Luke O’Nien likely has the right-back spot as his own, but who will Ross entrust on the other flank?
Reece James has struggled with fitness recently leading to Adam Matthews stepping in to fill the spot. Furthermore, Denver Hume has also returned to fitness just in time to offer the gaffer even more food for thought.
Thankfully, Jack Ross has a consistent performer between the sticks as the foundation of Sunderland’s defence. Jon McLaughlin has been a standout performer this season; Jack Ross will be hopeful that the Scottish keeper won’t be needed, but will feel assured that McLaughlin’s presence will be a positive for his side.
Further up the field, and Sunderland have more decisions to make.
It is safe to say that Lee Cattermole, Grant Leadbitter, Aiden McGeady, and Will Grigg will start if fit. However, that leaves two positions up for grabs.
Max Power has started in place of the suspended George Honeyman, but the former Wigan man hasn’t particularly impressed in his more advanced midfield role. With Honeyman’s suspension not including the Wembley final, will Ross hand the captain an immediate return to the side? Or, will Power be given a chance to show his true colours?
Furthermore, Lynden Gooch, Lewis Morgan, and possibly even Chris Maguire could well be available to line up on the opposite flank to McGeady - but who does Ross choose? Does he gamble on the return of the King? Does he give academy product Gooch a starring role? Or does he place faith in former favourite Morgan?
Grigg will definitely start up top if fit, but with Duncan Watmore missing out with injury, who our of Charlie Wyke and/or Kazaiah Sterling will have a chance to affect the game from the bench?
Ultimately, though, these questions regarding personnel are positive ones to be contemplating ahead of a final. With options across the pitch, training over the next two weeks will be intriguing as players desperately try to secure a berth in Ross’ starting XI.
Personally, I’d go for the below side and stack the XI with experience as well as local talent - how about you?