Q: Just a few days on from our Wembley defeat, how are you feeling about not only the loss, but the rest of the season?
My focus hasn’t changed at all. Before Sunday we were still in an absolutely class position in League One - with a six point gap to make up with our three games in hand - and I’m still really confident that the Lads can get us over the line.
Let’s be fair. The tie was decided by one missed spot kick. Over 120 minutes there was nothing to separate ourselves as Pompey - we were just the unlucky party in that particular lottery. We have to move on and not dwell too much on the negatives, because as disappointing as it was, there were still plenty of positives.
We got ourselves back in the game because we’re determined - we’ve done the same plenty of times this season. We have a quality player in Aiden McGeady, undoubtedly the most talented individual in the division. We worked hard from beginning to end and showed real heart - if we can take all of this forward with us, I think we’ll be fine.
I still think we’re a better team than Barnsley and Portsmouth and I think come this time next month we’ll be the team sat in second place. If anything, the loss at the weekend makes me even more confident that we’ll do it.
They SHOULD be determined to succeed even more having seen how the supporters turned out in huge numbers and lit the city red on Saturday night - and with individuals like Honeyman, Leadbitter and Cattermole around the camp I think that message will be made very clear to each and every player.
Craig Davies says...
I’m not worried about the result. Matches are won and lost on a weekly basis and often there is little between a victory and a loss, other than a small mistake or two. The performance was more interesting for me. After the exhilarating first half, everything else was nerve shredding. A high pressing, intense tempo, slick passing team disappeared from the 46th minute and never returned. The tiring nature of this epic battle and the exhausting emotional, draining of a penalty shoot out, concerns me moving forward. But that might be more to do with my personal pessimism than reality. It may just be the kick in the ass the players need to push on.
Another side effect of our recent Wembley visit was the glaring example of why playing Will Grigg up front alone simply doesn’t work, so if we persevere with that formation till the end of the season, I can imagine another few draws that could have been wins, because we don’t create enough chances with such a pragmatic and conservative approach.
However, away from the performance and tactics - the weekend, the day, the colours, the fans, the owners, the atmosphere, the banter, the unity and memories created, and the outpouring of positive feeling was glorious. It was uplifting and unifying. The missed penalty, the awkward performance and all the questions over tactics and substitutions are all worth it for the celebratory and memorable weekend. Sunderland fans themselves did more for our positive public relations image than 10 potential seasons of a Netflix documentary series could ever do.
As it stands, automatic promotion is still on. I’ll continue to believe that until its mathematically impossible. I honestly hope that the Wembley defeat will be a spur for the players to drive them on to a promotion that the fans and owners deserve. If Jack Ross can lift these lads and develop a more workable system to fit our big money striker’s strengths, we have every chance.
Mark Carrick says...
I heard and read a lot of comments in both the build up and aftermath of the final on Sunday.
For some it was a season defining moment - win and we take that momentum into the promotion challenge, but lose and it’ll collapse - whilst for others it was a bonus game and ‘it’d be nice to win but promotion is our aim’. Jack Ross himself hinted that promotion was the primary goal but, having made it to Wembley, it’d be better to win it.
After the game those in the first camp were ruing the loss, suggesting Cattermole was not the right person to take a penalty. There were other better qualified players available. Having ‘bottled it’ promotion was now in the hands of the play-off lottery.
For those in the latter camp, the weekend was an amazing experience and despite not getting the result, it could have gone either way and we have to take the first half form into the last nine games.
I think I’m leaning towards the second view. It was an outstanding game of football, even if the Wembley groundsman was only allowing one half of his pitch to be played on! It was a great advert for a much-maligned competition, a great advert for League One football and a great advert for two fantastic clubs.
All the arguments for substitutions, defensive positions when Pompey scored, even who should have taken that second penalty fade into insignificance now. We must focus on achieving our aim of immediate promotion, starting with three points at Accy Stanley on Wednesday. A positive result here, building momentum for another at Rochdale on Saturday will put us firmly in the race for second.
Barnsley have drawn three from their last four. If Sunderland can take the passion of the weekend, the form of the first half, the character from the last minutes of extra time and the courage of those penalty takers, I firmly believe we can achieve our ultimate goal. That, for me, measures success. Being runners-up after giving fans a wonderful weekend in London remains the icing on the cake of a successful season.