After two years of turmoil at Sunderland, things have brightened up for the Black Cats and, in League One, the loyal and battered supporters have found a way to fall back in love with the club all over again. Away trips to stadiums that haven’t been visited before and a promotion battle led by Jack Ross are just a few things that fans have enjoyed since last summer, a welcome change from chronic heartache, losing and soulless stadiums.
The bond that the club has made with supporters is a vital part in our restructuring going forward, and this is exactly what has happened at Sunderland. From Max Power taking a fan to the match in his car to the club’s owners spending huge amounts of time in the company of fans all over the country, there is nothing not to love about the new regime.
Black Cats supporters smashed the League One record attendance on Boxing Day with 46,039 fans turning out to see a 1-0 victory over Bradford. Then, Sunderland fans travelled in huge numbers to Blackpool on New Year’s Day, with 7804 turning up for another victory on the road.
Although top scorer Josh Maja left in January for French side Bordeaux, the club managed to replaced him with proven League One goalscorer, Will Grigg. Sunderland are now in pole position to claim second in League One with games in hand on Barnsley.
This entire forthcoming weekend will act as a reward for the loyal fans for keeping with the side during all of the twists and turns over the last few years, partying down Wembley Way to possibly see George Honeyman become the first Sunderland captain since Bobby Kerr to lift a trophy aloft inside the national stadium.
Jack Ross has given the tournament respect through the early stages, when his side beat Stoke City U21s (albeit on penalties), Carlisle United and Morecambe in the group stages, before swatting aside Notts County, Newcastle United U21s and then Manchester City’s youngsters. In the semi-finals, Sunderland faced Bristol Rovers, and goals from Will Grigg and Lewis Morgan sealed the final spot for the Black Cats.
For this weekend only the focus turns away from League One action for Jack Ross, but he will still know that a busy fixture schedule awaits after the cup final - that said, he’ll enjoy the moment for as long as it lasts. Leading Sunderland out at Wembley, in front of a packed crowd, would have been one of Ross’ initial targets when he joined in the summer.
Sunderland’s opposition - Portsmouth - come into this big event for them after overtaking the Black Cats in the lead after their 2-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town last Saturday. They are one of the only teams to have beaten Sunderland this season and will undoubtedly provide us with a tough test - but anything can happen in a cup final.
Both teams will be back by a strong support from their fans and they will enjoy the moment, and hopefully the atmosphere will provide a huge part in the big occasion for both teams.
Fingers crossed, by the time I write my next article, Sunderland will have won the EFL Trophy and we’ll be talking about memories that will last us a lifetime.