Michael Graham says...
I’d be lying if I said the Papa John’s Trophy final didn’t create a big conflict for me. I’ve supported Sunderland for nearly 35 years now and, yes, there is some embarrassment attached to even being in this competition.
On the other hand, you can only win the competitions you’re in, right? So, of course, I’ll be desperate to see Sunderland win the game on Sunday.
I am actually quite excited about the match, but I think that’s just because I’m excited by what’s happening at the club. More to the point, I’m excited that I am excited to support Sunderland again.
The fear of the false dawn is still tangible, though. I’ve seen and been hurt by too many of them to not have that caution, but you can only embrace what’s happening and hope for the best, otherwise are you really even a supporter anymore?
The final is, without a doubt, an important game for Sunderland to win. For the players, most of whom this will be as good a level as they’ll get to in their careers, it could have a transformative effect on their belief going into the final stretch of the season. Winning can show them they can trust themselves and each other on the big occasion. Losing it can create potentially crippling doubt that can undermine the big promotion clashes ahead.
I wish we could all be there, of course I do, but will fans not being there relieve the pressure on the players on the day? I guess we’ll never know.
But even if we win, it’s important to remember all this trophy will ever, or can ever, be for this club is the start of something much better.
Malc Dugdale says...
This is an important game in terms of maintaining a winning run and building confidence at a key venue where we historically do poorly, but the fact that fans cannot attend is a major dampener for me.
For many years I have been an exile from the north east due to living and working some distance away (the furthest being New Zealand, about 27000 miles, which is a long walk). My son and I are both massive lads fans, and in the UK at a time when the team are very much in the ascendency (and he is now over 18 which he wasn’t last time), losing a chance to see them again at the national stadium is a proper pisser. We have to do what we have to do at times like these. We will scream ourselves hoarse at home instead with way cheaper beer in hand, and the lads know we are behind them, we hope.
If we can win comfortably and maintain the trajectory that we have established then that has to be a good thing, but we need to protect our squad from further injury, and not let anything other than a win take the wind from our league sails.
If we lose to Tranmere but step up the leagues, the Papa John’s trophy loss will fade to nothing. If it is the other way round and we win the cup but don’t go up, that is a much bigger impact on us all, so this for me is a game worth a watch, but in the main an interesting distraction from a greater aim which we must achieve, hopefully the third time lucky.
Phil West says...
There is no denying that the sight of Sunderland walking out to play in a cup final at a deserted Wembley will be somewhat bizarre. As we saw in 2019, when we took 40,000 fans to London for the corresponding game against Portsmouth, it would ordinarily be an occasion where the strength of our support is displayed en-masse.
Personally, I don’t think the ‘empty stadium factor’ devalues the game. It’s just a way of life right now, and we aren’t the first set of fans to potentially miss out on seeing our club win a big game live, and we won’t be the last, either. As the running joke goes, it would be ‘peak Sunderland’ if we were to win a trophy with nobody there to witness it!
As to the importance of the match, I really want us to give it everything and to try and finally crack the Wembley curse that has shadowed Sunderland for what feels like an eternity. Winning this game would give the players an enormous psychological boost, and would also inject further momentum into our season as we push for promotion.
Ultimately, regardless of prestige or title, this is a trophy to be won, and not every club gets the chance. We’ve navigated our way through a knockout competition in order to get to this stage, and as we saw against Lincoln, our resilience has been tested along the way, and that proves that we deserve to be in the final.
In our current position, we need to maximize every opportunity to inject positivity back into the football club, and victory this weekend would certainly do just that. EFL trophy victory combined with promotion back to the Championship would represent a real triumph for Lee Johnson and his players. This weekend, we have a chance to secure the first half of a potential double, and I really hope we leave Wembley having come out on the winning side.
Mark Wood says...
No game will miss the fans more than a cup final. We have become somewhat used to it in league games, but a cup final has all the build-up and razzmatazz beforehand which is all about the fans and is part of the occasion. You think of Sunderland fans in Trafalgar Square the night before the 2019 final, yet this time the best we can hope for is to wave across the street at each other as we pass on an ‘essential’ trip outdoors.
Unless it is for exercise, of course.
Fans or not, this is a huge game for the club. We saw two years ago just how seriously everyone at Sunderland - players, fans, staff and board members took it. There are generations of fans who have seen Sunderland and Wembley multiple times and never seen them win. Even fans in the under 20s age group have seen Sunderland beaten at Wembley three times. What becomes more disturbing is when you think of the age group of around under 45’s, who have memories going back to 1985 and have seen Sunderland play at Wembley seven times but lose the lot. To win would break a terrible run without any silverware that stretches back to 1973. Some say it is only a tinpot trophy, but if you are in League One this is THE cup final, and in League One we are.
Sunderland achieved a great result at Portsmouth on Tuesday in one of the biggest games of our season, winning at one of our biggest promotion rivals. Sunday is just as important, and a game that will be looked back on come the end of the campaign - not just for the reasons above, but as also part of the momentum which we look to continue to build and take us out of League One.
Jack Gingell says...
It’s still a cup final, despite the small stature of the competition.
We should be aiming to win every game we play in to keep the momentum going, and I would expect nothing less in this one. Winning breeds confidence and the players, some of which will never have played at Wembley before (or perhaps ever again), will bring that bounce to our next game against Accrington Stanley.
I’m sure Lee Johnson will take it seriously, but it’s a rare opportunity to perhaps give some lads a start such as Maguire or maybe even the likes of Ross Stewart.
It’s sad that the supporters aren’t able to go and swarm London as is often the case. There’s a real feel-good factor that has retuned since the takeover and our recent form, and it would have been a great occasion to have some fun and hopefully see us lift a trophy.
Nonetheless, there is still a buzz about it and I’m sure everyone will tune in and have a bit of cup final party on Sunday. Let’s face it - it is as Sunderland as it gets to win a trophy at Wembley and none of us will be there to see it.