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Editorial: A winning mentality and the care factor gives huge cause for optimism

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After the club waited almost 50 years for more Wembley silverware, Sunderland’s new owner had to wait less than a month. Lifting the trophy sets out his stall, however – and gives a great foundation from which to build.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy Final Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Waking up the morning after a Wembley win... It’s a new experience for any Sunderland supporter aged under 50!

And while, as a club, we’ve waited for 48 years to see the lads in red and white lift silverware at Wembley, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has only had to wait 23 days to see his team taste success. If you want a sign that things might just be different under our new owner, there’s a huge pizza-shaped one right there.

Symbolically, winning the Trophy yesterday was important.

Of course, none of us really want to be competing in that competition, and I’m sure we all are of the same opinion that we don’t want to be able to defend it next year.

But winning not only ends our ‘Wembley hoodoo’, which psychologically could be important in a couple of months’ time, but it also puts a firm stake in the ground that this is different. This is a new era. At Sunderland now we mean business.

And that’s more important than anything.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy Final
Not a bad first month in charge!
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Brian Clough’s first trophy at Forest wasn’t the League championship or the European Cup – it was the Anglo-Scottish cup. It was a derided competition, not taken seriously by everyone, but it gave Forest – then struggling in Division Two – a bit of silverware. The first they’d won for almost 20 years.

Cloughie later said:

Those who said it was a nothing trophy were crackers. We’d won something and it made all the difference.

Just over a decade ago now, Southampton won the EFL Trophy against Carlisle, and their manager – one Alan Pardew – attributed a lot of their subsequent success to it.

The EFL Trophy became very, very important to Southampton’s success that came later on, because that team really learned how to win in that final, and in the games leading up to it.

I feel it was massively important for them, winning that trophy, just to get a winning mentality amongst them and the others in the team.

Whether or not it has a similar effect on us remains to be seen, of course, but it’s pretty much the best start the new owner could have gotten off to, and Lee Johnson and Kristjaan Speakman, too.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy - Final 2021 - Wembley Stadium
One down, one to go
Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

And Johnson’s got to take a lot of credit. While the performance left a bit to be desired, the amount of injuries we had could easily have affected us, but the players are evidently playing for him.

Leadbitter’s interview after the game spoke volumes for a number of reasons – you can certainly tell he played for Roy Keane for a long while, can’t you?

Grant talked a lot about the fact that Johnson ‘cares’ about the players – the older players, the younger players and everyone else in between.

If you’re looking for signs of change, there it is. We’ve got a set up behind the scenes that, while still in its infancy and still developing, cares. And that’s a general principle the club’s lacked for years now.

The faded seats, the broken lift, the pinstripe shirts, the players content to pick up wages, the ‘asset stripping’, the cost cutting, the lack of financial transparency – there was a general lack of care around everything to do with the club that manifested itself on the field too.

Now it seems different. Let’s hope it is.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy Final
Winning a cup for Sunderland on Mother’s Day was special for Grant
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The proof of the pudding’s in the eating of it though, and we’re heading into a tough run of fixtures now. 13 games that will determine our 20-21 fate. 13 games in which we have little margin for error.

What we do over those 13 games will be critical for where we end this season, of course (and I desperately hope we do go up) but I don’t think they’re critical for the future of the club.

Because we have a solid foundation now.

A foundation based on winning. A foundation based on care.

And if we can build steadily on that over the coming seasons, we’ll have more days like yesterday. In fact, we’ll have better days than yesterday, because we’ll (hopefully!) be able to be there. Our absence was the one cloud that hung over yesterday, wasn’t it?

I know we’ll get a bit of stick for celebrating an EFL Cup win (the same weird attitude we get for celebrating anything in League One) but who gives a toss? Yes, it’s not the FA Cup or the League Championship, but it’s a cup, it’s a Wembley win. Enjoy it.

After enduring the past few seasons – the winless runs, the double relegation, the likes of Moyes, Grayson, Parkinson, Bain and Donald controlling things off the field, having to endure the horrendous egos of James Vaughan, Lamine Kone, Papy Djilobodji, Lewis Grabban and Jack Rodwell among many others on it – it’s so refreshing to see a team on and off the field that are united.

The shots of Sanderson, O’Brien and Winchester chanting, Kimpioka taking a starring role in the post-match celebrations despite not playing all season, Kyril congratulating Leadbitter, Johnson making a point of acknowledging the players who weren’t able to play. These things tell you as much about this new set up as winning the trophy itself does.

Finally, it seems like we have good, strong people at the club. People who want to be here for the right reasons. Players who aren’t just here for a pay cheque. Players who appreciate being involved with Sunderland.

And it feels bloody good.

The dawning of a new era? You bet.

And a Wembley win with an academy graduate scoring the winning goal gets it off to the best possible start.