It was the cruellest of ways to lose; the period that began with the introduction of Portsmouth’s Gareth Evans and culminated in Oliver Hawkins slotting home the decisive penalty at Wembley seemed unthinkable at half-time.
Given Sunderland’s many shortcomings after the interval, it would be hard to make a case that we deserved to win the trophy. This is not to say that we did not play well. There were some impressive performances, particularly in the first half, with Aiden McGeady unplayable at times. Despite Portsmouth’s dominance as the game wore on, the lads managed to pick themselves up after going behind and came back with only a few minutes to go. Even in the shootout itself, it is rare to see a side score all five of their penalties as Portsmouth did.
The real shame is that the defeat can be pinpointed to one moment, Lee Cattermole’s missed penalty, rather than an unparalleled moment of brilliance from the opposition. In situations like the one at Wembley, it wouldn’t be fair to criticise a player brave enough to shoulder the responsibility of a penalty.
Given his position, Cattermole may seem an unlikely candidate, but he has his credentials. He was one of the only players on the pitch with relevant experience, scoring in a shoot-out against Sweden in the U21 European Championship semi-final back in 2009. His effort against Portsmouth was placed similarly to the one all those years ago, with the Swedish goalkeeper diving the wrong way. Despite the disappointing outcome, it can only be to Cattermole’s credit that he stepped up when players who perhaps should have done failed to do so.
As strange as it sounds, if I had to choose a player from our current squad to miss a penalty it would probably be Lee Cattermole. This might come across harsh. Lee Cattermole has been an excellent servant to the club and has always been one of our most important players. It is no coincidence that he has been an integral part of the few ups we have in his spell on Wearside.
He was an important player in the League Cup run of 2014 and each of our ‘great escapes’, as well as starting four of the six consecutive derby victories. In the eight matches he has started since the 4-2 victory over Gillingham, we have won five and drawn two. When he is in the team and playing well, generally, so does the team. Countless times, he has come back from the wilderness and seen off several players signed to replace him.
Ultimately though, for less experienced or less established members of the squad, missing a penalty in a Wembley cup final might finish them off. Cattermole has proved, time and time again, he has the strength of character to come back from a situation like this. You can’t beat someone who never knows when they’re beat; Lee Cattermole is one such individual.
Fortunately, Cattermole and co. cannot dwell on the disappointment for long. There is no summer to sit and stew on a beach somewhere, eagerly waiting for a chance at redemption. There is an immediate opportunity for Cattermole to be a hero by helping to guide us back to the Championship at the first attempt. As the old cliché goes, we have nine more cup finals, starting in Accrington on Wednesday night.
Games in hand provide a golden opportunity to put ourselves back amongst the promotion places; but as we have already learned this season, these opportunities must be taken. If we find ourselves having a promotion party at Roots Hall on May the fourth, Wembley disappointment will be the last thing on anyone’s mind.