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Sunderland v Rochdale - Sky Bet League One

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The opportunity to be successful this season is there - Sunderland just need to take it

Wembley was great, but it’s over now. Time to move onto the league, starting with tonight. The opportunity is there. Let’s go and take it.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Well, it finally happened. After eight failed visits, 48 years, disappointments, tears, and heartache - we eventually won at Wembley.

Lynden Gooch powered home the winner in a pretty awful game, but who cares. We overcame Tranmere Rovers to win the ‘Pizza Cup’, and that’s all that matters.

The only sad point about the whole thing was the lack of fans in the ground. Football without supporters is nothing, and we’d have loved to be there in London to witness the scenes and enjoy it together.

While I recognise the Papa John Trophy win was a rare happy moment in the last five years, it’s simply not the main priority, and our focus now has to shift.

With 13 matches remaining in League One we’re in a pretty good position. The recent run of five wins in the last six matches has seen us shoot from outside the play-offs to the edge of the automatic promotion race. Offer any Sunderland fan this scenario at Christmas and they’d have all snapped your hands off, and it’s crucial we don’t let the opportunity slip.

Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers - Papa John’s Trophy - Final 2021 - Wembley Stadium Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

It’s often the team that keeps the momentum up in the run-in that eventually gets over the line. That team that keeps energy levels high and grinds results from nowhere.

I felt that two years ago, Jack Ross’ Sunderland team lost it after losing to Portsmouth in the Final on penalties. Perhaps the focus was too much on delivering success for the fans at Wembley, or maybe it was a loss of energy both physically and emotionally after a draining campaign.

Both Lincoln and Peterborough have been top in recent weeks and missed their chance to pull clear of ourselves and the other teams in the chasing pack. Now we look like we’re in the pole position to get an automatic slot - we must not drop our guard at Accrington Stanley.

Accrington is the first match after the celebrations of the Wembley win and they will be looking to catch us in the midst of a fully-fledged hangover. Make no mistake about it, they are more than capable of causing us problems. They’ve been in the Play-Offs at times this campaign and have taken points from all of the three teams above us in the table.

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

They are a club that have been known for being the underdog their whole professional lives. From the famous milk advert in the 80s to frequently having spells where administration or worse liquidation, was never far away.

John Coleman is an experienced lower-league manager who knows how to get a team playing. He will be portraying Sunderland as big-time charlie’s who will be still on a high from the weekend. We must do the basics, get the ball onto the ground and play with the same incisiveness and tempo like we did at Portsmouth last week.

Wembley was great, but it’s over now. Time to move onto the league, starting with tonight.

The opportunity is there. Let's go and take it.

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