Cast your mind back two years under Jack Ross. We were going pretty well in the league and the ‘Checkatrade trophy’, as it was known, was an afterthought. Yes - we enjoyed beating the Mags kids, but suddenly we were in the Semi-Final. Naturally, our focus shifted to thoughts of Wembley, and perhaps the squad did the same.
Never one to miss a marketing opportunity, the club (and in-particular Charlie Methven) made a big deal out of wanting the record attendance at Wembley for the EFL Trophy. It was achieved, with 85,000 fans attending against Portsmouth. Fans revelled in the Trafalgar Square celebrations the day before, but after losing on penalties, everything went a bit flat.
We only won three of the last ten fixtures and suddenly a promotion which had looked nailed on, became uncertain. We made it to Wembley again for the Play-Offs, but the performance against Charlton was poor, and we lost in the last minute.
Did we spend too much energy and place too much focus on the Checkatrade match? Possibly so - I don’t think it helped. We didn’t even win, remember. Yes, Jack Ross under-performed as manager, and takes his share of the blame, but it really seemed like after that we lost momentum as a team.
Fans will think ‘Well... I enjoyed Wembley - it was a great weekend, bar the result’. Obviously, because of COVID-19, nobody will be attending the game if we get there this year. The team will be there, but for the fans it will just be another game for us to watch behind a screen, like all other football fans across the country.
There’s an argument that if we got there and won, it would be the first time Sunderland have won a cup final at Wembley since 1973, and that would be spot on, but would it rank as highly? Of course not. The tournament is of miniscule reputation, and some of our fans will forget its actual name in years to come.
We have suffered seven straight Wembley defeats since 1973, and it’s a well known curse. How incredibly ironic would it be for Sunderland to finally win a game there with no fans in attendance?
With the impending takeover, new recruitment model and Lee Johnson moulding a side in his image, things are looking up. Crucial to our future plans as a club are preparing a team and club ready for promotion. I simply don’t want anything to compromise that at all.
I’ll be in a minority when I say this, but the Pizza Cup just isn’t for me.