Sunderland won a trophy at Wembley! Does it feel like the start of something special?
What a brilliant feeling it was waking up this morning - Sunderland have a new owner, a new progressive manager, a team pushing for promotion, but most importantly, we won a trophy at Wembley!
We have to be honest, it was not a performance to remember, it was not a game to remember either, but that one moment of quality from Aiden McGeady, followed by a composed finish by Lynden Gooch was enough to make a special day.
It was just about getting the job done and breaking that Wembley hoodoo, Sunderland fans still feel the pain of 2019 where we lost twice, both in highly cruel manners, but this time it was a day for us to celebrate.
We played against inferior opposition, a team who are likely to be playing League One football next year, but despite our injury crisis and all the players covering out of position, Sunderland got the job done.
It all just feels like this could be the start of a new era on Wearside, we all thought this back in 2018, but this time it does really feel like we are moving in a new modern and progressive direction.
Seeing an academy graduate score the winner, seeing Grant Leadbitter return to win a trophy with his boyhood club, seeing Kyril Louis-Dreyfus on the pitch in a Sunderland suit with the players, there was just so many things to smile about yesterday.
The reality is that Sunderland’s season will be decided by whether or not we achieve promotion, but yesterday was a monumental psychological lift for everyone involved with Sunderland from the fans, staff, and the players.
This group have now tasted success, a winning feeling, but they need to use that energy and that experience to push themselves for more, that one step further which would be to push on for the League One trophy.
League One is currently wide open and because Sunderland still have Hull, Peterborough, and Lincoln to play, our destiny is in our own hands and it is down to the players to continue this winning run.
We have all (fans, players, and staff) experienced a taste of what winning can feel like after suffering for far too long with relegations and final defeats, is it now up to the players to make yesterday the start of something truly special at Sunderland.
Does Lee Burge deserve more credit for his clean sheet yesterday?
Whilst Luke O’Nien was given the man of the match award by Sky, but one player who deserves more credit for me is Sunderland’s goalkeeper Lee Burge.
The 28-year-old achieved his fourth clean sheet in a row and has swiftly put to bed previous concerns Lee Johnson had within the goalkeeping department.
Burge made some crucial saves to prevent Sunderland from falling behind, he prevented what would have been a comical own goal from Grant Leadbitter, just managing to prevent the ball from crossing the line in what seemed a very difficult body position.
Also, he made a very smart save to deny Tranmere right-back Otis Khan early in the second half, parrying his strike away from two Rovers players who were eagerly waiting for a tap in at close range.
The ex-Coventry keeper’s handling was excellent throughout the match and for the first time in a long time I am starting to feel almost relaxed about this position, a feeling I have not enjoyed since Jon McLaughlin left to join Rangers in the summer.
If Sunderland are to continue their automatic promotion push, it is imperative that we have a safe pair of hands in goal, if Lee Burge can continue playing the way he is he will be a major boost to Johnson’s team.
Should Luke O’Nien continue at centre-back despite natural defenders returning to fitness?
A discussion I never thought I would be having this season, but here we go!
When Luke O’Nien was sent off against Portsmouth earlier this season, it appeared to signal that him playing at centre-back was a failed experiment, a push too far of his versatility,
Fast forward to now, he has just won two man of the match awards live on Sky playing on the left-side of a two-man defence - imagine being told that back in October?
Since the 26-year-old started covering there, Sunderland have conceded in just ONE of their seven matches, a crazy statistic considering the number of midfielders who have been covering out of position.
You have to factor that a major part of that statistic has been the brilliant emergence of Dion Sanderson, but O’Nien deserves an enormous amount of credit for his versatility and his selflessness to put the team over personal gain.
During yesterday’s final, he looked the more assured of him and the returning Tom Flanagan, whose miss kick inside the box prompted an unnecessary amount of anxiety for everyone watching.
Lee Johnson will soon have Bailey Wright back and Connor McLaughlin will certainly be knocking on the door, but does he need to move O’Nien considering how well he and Sanderson are playing?
Sunderland travel to Accrington on Wednesday night and I would be more than happy to see Sanderson and O’Nien start as our central pair.
For me they have both earned the right to keep their places, Sanderson showed immense patience to wait for an opportunity and O’Nien is happy to cover multiple positions for the benefit of the team - they both deserve to continue.