For the nights at Morecambe, for dancing in the rain in Bristol, for keeping a straight face while demolishing Newcastle under-21s during their supporters’ “best moment of the season”, this is the reward.
George Honeyman has the opportunity to be the first Sunderland captain to lift silverware at Wembley since Bobby Kerr all those years ago, back in 1973.
Fellow League One promotion hopefuls Portsmouth stand in the way of creating a memorable moment underneath the famous arch - let’s go and win that goddamn Checkatrade Trophy.
Jack Ross says...
I was made aware very quickly that this competition provided us with a realistic chance of getting to Wembley. I knew what it would mean to the fans and how high the demand would be for tickets and everything that comes with the day.
This was always an opportunity to win silverware. The importance of winning on Sunday is to continue the momentum we’ve built up this season. It’s just my job to bring success to the club. Hopefully, on Sunday, I can start that.
The pressure facing the players comes with playing for a club like Sunderland. We’ve always accepted that as a group and as staff. We’ve learned to deal with it so going into an occasion like we are on Sunday, I don’t think the pressure changes.
The skipper says...
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s clash with Portsmouth, George Honeyman told the Sunderland Echo about his excitement of walking the lads out at Wembley:
We wanted Portsmouth to get through because we knew they would bring a big crowd. It will be surreal.
I am sure everyone will enjoy the moment. It’s not the FA Cup final but it will live in people’s memories if we lift the trophy, hopefully it will last in the memory for a while.
I went down with my mum in 2014, it was mad, I couldn’t believe how much they took over the whole city. It will be amazing to see and I can’t wait to experience it as a player.
I have a bus load of family and friends going. They had already booked that bus before the red card, so I was doubly lucky to hear I could play.
It will be a great weekend and we are all looking forward to it.
Will Grigg’s withdrawal from the Northern Ireland squad last week sent alarm bells ringing across Wearside. Many supporters were preparing for a David Beckham circa 2006 situation, praying to the injury Gods to heal Grigg’s ankle, and it looks to have paid off with the striker expected to lead the line on Sunday.
Jack Ross confirmed that both Chris Maguire and Duncan Watmore will miss the final, with Watmore now likely to miss the remainder of the season. There are doubts over Adam Matthews with the full-back rated as “50-50” and, should he fail to recover in time, Ross will be able to call on Bryan Oviedo and Denver Hume who have both returned to full fitness.
Captain George Honeyman is available as his suspension isn’t valid for Checkatrade Trophy games. That will give Ross options in midfield with Honeyman, Lee Cattermole, Grant Leadbitter, Max Power and Dylan McGeouch all itching to make the Wembley starting XI.
View From The Opposition...
After being League One’s pace setters for so long this campaign, Portsmouth’s catastrophic run of eight winless games after the turn of the year has seen the south coast side slip in the promotion chase. However, Kenny Jackett has managed to galvanise his players and they enter the Checkatrade Trophy final on the back of three consecutive league wins.
Like Sunderland, Pompey glided through their Checkatrade Trophy campaign winning every game and only conceding three goals in the process. They had some incredibly nervy moments against League Two high-fliers Bury in the semi-final but quickfire goals from George Evans and Ollie Hawkins helped them to a 3-0 win.
Jackett will be pleased to welcome back another scorer from that evening, Ronan Curtis, for the trip to Wembley. Curtis - who found the net when Sunderland visited Fratton Park in December - has been missing for the past three weeks with a serious finger injury.
The Republic of Ireland international is expected to be involved on Sunday, although Jackett confirmed that both winger Viv Solomon-Otabor and full-back Dion Donohue will miss out.
While the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Millwall boss spoke of the magnificent occasion of Sunday, he stressed the importance of sticking to a routine that has served them well in the league campaign:
Everybody is buzzing, you can tell. The whole of Portsmouth is excited, which is great to see, and the players pick up on it.
We will treat it like a normal away game in terms of our routine, including an overnight stay. We want to build up to it, certainly by the back end of this week keep it as normal as possible.
It’s really important there is consistency from the management upon which the players can rely.
I think players produce their best form if they know what’s expected. You do need it.
Try to keep a routine, try to keep a regular focus about it, even though we all know it’s not a regular game, with the stadium and crowd, etc, etc.
If you want to be successful, you have to come through different tests, whether it’s Shrewsbury away or a final at Wembley.
Last Time We Met
Portsmouth sit alongside Walsall and Burton Albion on the illustrious list of opponents that have managed to get the better of Sunderland during the current campaign. Pompey’s 3-1 victory at Fratton Park in December merely lit a fire under the Black Cats who overhauled their south coast adversaries in the proceeding months.
Sunderland do not have the best of records against Portsmouth, with Sunday’s opponents currently unbeaten in the last seven meetings. Sunderland haven’t beaten Pompey since 2008, when two Kieran Richardson goals gave Roy Keane’s side a valuable three points in their bid to stay in the Premier League.
There also isn’t any real need to point out that Sunderland haven’t won at Wembley since that famous FA Cup triumph in 1973.