clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

THREE players who are likely to have a huge say in whether Sunderland get to Wembley tonight

Sunderland are just one game away from a play-off final at Wembley - and our man Graham Falk thinks these THREE players will have a huge say in whether we get there or not.

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Checkatrade Trophy Final Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Brett Pitman

League One Games/Goals: 32/11

After missing out on the first leg, the return of the 6ft striker could make a huge difference to the outcome of the second leg.

After beginning the season in steady form, the former AFC Bournemouth striker - much like Pompey themselves - lost his form mid-way through the season and looked to be heading out of Fratton Park.

However Pitman truly returned to form at almost the same time his team did - although it’s fair to say a change in position seemed to do the trick. Kenny Jackett moved him from an out-and-out striker into a number ten role behind Ollie Hawkins, and he’s been repaying Jackett ever since.

His return will be a big danger to our back four.

Portsmouth v Arsenal U21 - Checkatrade Trophy Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Jon McLaughlin

League One Games/Clean sheets: 46/13

Whereas we pinpointed Pompey’s number one Craig Macgillivray as one of the key players in last week’s first leg, there’s no doubting the importance of our Scottish stopper in the return game.

Whilst the EFL may disagree, there’s no doubt in my mind that the best goalkeeper in League One is Jon McLaughlin, and if we are to get past Portsmouth this Thursday night, he’s going to have to live up to that tag if we are to progress.

Kenny Jackett’s team will look to attack more than they did last week, and you can be guarantee that we’ll be tested at the back - if big Jon comes up trumps like he has throughout this season, his performance alone might just get us to Wembley.

Bristol Rovers v Sunderland - Checkatrade Trophy Semi Final Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Ben Close

League One Games/Goals: 35/8

Portsmouth born and bred, dynamic midfielder Ben Close has has stood out for me in our match ups against the South Coast team this season.

Whereas many point to the talents of his midfielder partner Tom Naylor, the 22-year-old academy graduate has progressed into one of the better holding midfielders in the league, and it was both alarming and impressive the amount of loose balls he picked up to restart Pompey attacks.

Neat in possession and strong on the ball, Close possess a superior range of passing than most of the other central midfielders we’ve encountered in the third tier - Lee Cattermole and Max Power will have to start where they lay off from last week’s first leg if they are to win the battle in the engine room.

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Checkatrade Trophy Final Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Roker Report Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Sunderland news from Roker Report