Game of Two Halves

London was swarmed by a sea of red and white. Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden were both filled with upbeat supporters in red and white, a day before we faced Portsmouth at Wembley Stadium. A party atmosphere filled the air, with chants ringing around the capital into the early hours of Sunday morning.

Sunday 31st of March; it was match day. Thousands more Sunderland supporters flocked onto ALS buses from 4am. Whether it was a feeling of optimism or hope, it definitely created the most positive of moods for the whole length of the journey. “Will Grigg’s on Fire” and “Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants.” echoed across coaches, and every supporter joined in.

This buzz of excitement multiplied when arriving at Wembley. With kick off quickly approaching, it wasn’t long until we were finally able to enjoy a final, after how bleak the last few seasons as a Sunderland supporter has been. Wembley was packed with red and white shirts and flags as the 85,000 attendance was really put into perspective. The loudest of chants in world football continued along Wembley Way, and the wait for kick off was nearly over.

Moments before kick off all Sunderland supporters proudly held their scarves towards the sky and sung “Falling In Love With You” the loudest you have ever heard it. It was a truly incredible moment, that none of us will wish to forget in a hurry. Just as many Portsmouth fans also waved their scarves in the air, creating a very intense atmosphere but one that justifies all the money you have invested into football.

The wait was now over and the game commenced. Despite a relatively anxious start from both teams, Sunderland were undoubtedly dominant from very early on. A couple of half chances came our way, with Lewis Morgan’s shot being deflected onto the roof of the net and multiple corners, but there weren’t really any open opportunities. That was until Aidan McGeady took centre stage. On the 38th minute of the game with his superb effort from the free kick to give Sunderland the deserved 1-0 lead, and 40,000 Sunderland supporters erupted with joy.

The second half kicked off. It was clear that it wasn’t going to be the same, as Portsmouth pegged Sunderland back into their own half for the majority of the half. Brett Pitman struck the post with a good attempt and the noise from the Sunderland end had significantly lowered and you could feel the nerves. Despite a couple of terrific Jon McLaughlin saves and some close shots on goal, the inevitable finally occurred as Nathan Thompson headed the ball home. Luckily enough, Sunderland were able to hold on until extra time after a completely dominant half from Portsmouth.

Both sides headed back onto the field for extra time, and nothing could separate the sides in the first half of extra time. However, in the second half of extra time Portsmouth took the lead for the first time, on the 114th minute. Jamal Lowe chipped over Jon McLaughlin after some poor defending to make it 2-1.

Sunderland supporters kept the faith right until the dying moments of the game hoping for a moment of magic. Incredibly Aiden McGeady was the hero once again, only just slotting it under the goalkeeper and past the defender on the line to level the score on the last minute. Unfortunately, all that goal meant was that we had to go through the torture of a penalty shootout at Wembley once again.

Portsmouth scored all five penalties despite Jon McLaughlin’s best efforts to keep them out, coming extremely close to saving on more than one occasion. It was Lee Cattermole who had his penalty saved, a great save from the goalkeeper to win the game 5-4 on penalties. Regardless of the result, all the players, staff and supporters associated with Sunderland can be very proud and it has been a tremendous weekend.