It all proved to be a step too far for Sunderland as they lost the Checkatrade Trophy final on a penalty shootout to Portsmouth.
The match was tied at 2-2 after extra time so the match headed to penalties, where Lee Cattermole missed the only spot kick - meaning Pompey had the advantage, which they took and won the shootout 5-4.
After all of the celebration on Saturday night in Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden the Sunderland fans were up for this match, and so were the Portsmouth fans. Both sets of supporters sold out their allocation and contributed to an EFL Trophy record final attendance of 85,021.
Jack Ross had George Honeyman available for the Checkatrade Trophy final as his League One suspension didn’t apply for this game. So, he replaced Max Power in the centre of the attacking midfield. Also, after pulling out of the Northern Ireland squad with an ongoing injury, Will Grigg started up top for Sunderland.
In the early stages, Lewis Morgan, George Honeyman and Aiden McGeady were at the centre of majority of Sunderland’s attacks, Morgan coming the closest after his volley was fizzed into the gloves of Craig MacGillivray.
Then, the turning point came when Aiden McGeady won a free kick outside of the penalty area after a foul from Nathan Thompson. McGeady took the free kick himself and curled the ball over the wall - and, with a slight deflection, it flew into the top left corner of the Portsmouth net. The sea of red and white erupted into noise.
In the second period, Sunderland sat off and Portsmouth came back fighting - and when Brett Pitman’s shot struck the post, the Pompey fans knew they could score to send the match to extra time. That is exactly what they did when Gareth Evans chipped the ball to the back post from the left side and Thompson jumped higher than his man to nod it into the back of the Sunderland net.
So, the match skipped into extra time and Jack Ross used his extra change wisely, bringing on Charlie Wyke in the place of Grant Leadbitter. In the first 15 minutes of extra time the score was equal at 1-1, but in the second period the match sparked into life. A superb ball up to Jamal Lowe was controlled even better by the 24 year old and after taking a few seconds to position himself, he lobbed it over Jon McLaughlin. The Portsmouth supporters thought that they had won the Checkatrade Trophy with that effort.
They were incorrect as Sunderland pegged them back when Wyke held the ball up brilliantly inside the area and laid it off to McGeady, who set himself and arrowed the ball into the back of the Pompey net.
Then came the nervy penalty shootout!
Sunderland started by converting through Aiden McGeady’s spot kick. Then, Gareth Evans did the same for Portsmouth.
Sunderland’s second penalty taker stepped up -Lee Cattermole. Unfortunately, he was unable to convert as Craig MacGillivray produced a great stop. Brett Pitman was then able to give the south east club the one-goal advantage. All of the penalties from there were scored when it was 4-4, and Oli Hawkins had the chance to win the Checkatrade Trophy.
The hearts of the Sunderland fans were in their mouths, but Portsmouth backed their side. Hawkins made his run up and hammered the ball into the Wembley net and the sea of blue exploded. Portsmouth heartbreakingly won the Checkatrade Trophy via the lottery of a shootout - a tough one to take for Jack Ross and his men.
After the match, Jack Ross’ tactics were debated and debated.
What was the approach in the second half? Why did we decide to play this way? Why did he not swap Grigg with Wyke? Just some of a number of questions that the Sunderland fans had on their minds that we’ll likely never hear all the answers to.
Of course we are gutted after we fought back at the end of the extra time, and the heads of the players will be down, but focus must now turn to Accrington Stanley on Wednesday.
This is a huge game and we know that a win would not only boost the confidence of the Sunderland players, fans and staff but it will also boost our chances of automatic promotion - ruining the prospect of another possible trip to Wembley in the EFL League One play-off final.