It’s just over two weeks until Sunderland travel to Wembley to face Tranmere Rovers in the Papa John’s Trophy Final. The match will take place on Sunday 14th March, as originally scheduled, after suggestions from Tranmere to move the game to May so that fans could attend were rejected. It will be Sunderland’s eighth attempt to win at Wembley since their last victory in 1973. All previous attempts have ended in defeat for the lads both in normal time and on penalties. This article will look at 5 reasons why Sunderland will win against Tranmere and break their Wembley ‘curse’.
THERE’S NO FANS THERE
This is the biggest reason why Sunderland will win against Tranmere on the 14th March. Winning at Wembley when there’s no fans there is a very Sunderland thing to do. As much as I’d love to be there, if watching from home means we finally win again at Wembley then I’m all for it, just as long as the next time we can go we win again. There was suggestions from Tranmere to delay the game until May so that 10,000 fans could attend. However choosing which 5000 Sunderland fans would get tickets would cause World War 3. If we win without fans there then us Sunderland fans are clearly the reason behind our Wembley failures. If we didn’t travel down in our thousands and create an electric atmosphere then we might have actually won a few more games at Wembley. Shame on us if so.
WE HAVE 7 PREVIOUS WEMBLEY WINNERS IN THE SQUAD
The last time we played at Wembley only one member of our squad had tasted victory at the national stadium before. Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin was part of the Bradford team that defeated Northampton to win the League Two Play Off Final in 2013. However this time around seven of our squad have won at Wembley:
· Conor McLaughlin – Fleetwood, League Two Play Off Final 2014
· Bailey Wright – Preston, League One Play Off Final 2015
· Josh Scowen – Barnsley, EFL Trophy 2016 and League One Play Off Final 2016
· Aiden O’Brien – Millwall, League One Play Off Final 2017
· Lee Burge – Coventry, EFL Trophy 2017 and League Two Play Off Final 2018
· Jordan Willis - Coventry, EFL Trophy 2017 and League Two Play Off Final 2018
· Jack Diamond – Harrogate, National League Play Off Final 2020
The majority of our current squad were also members of the 2018/2019 squad that suffered two defeats in two months at Wembley, so having players around them who know the feeling of winning at Wembley will be a massive boost. The psychological impact that comes from winning at Wembley will certainly give Sunderland more of an advantage compared to the two games in 2019. Even though most of our players have lost at Wembley with Sunderland they have experienced playing on the hallow turf and have experienced the whole occasion of playing at Wembley. This should mean they are less likely to get dragged into this occasion malarkey and can just focus on the game instead.
TRANMERE HAVEN’T BEATEN US SINCE 2000
I mean we have only played them twice since then but in the two games since we won 5-0 and 1-0. The 5-0 drubbing we gave them at the Stadium of Light in October 2019 is impressive to begin with. However it is even more impressive when you realise it was under Phil Parkinson, who set us to play like a 12 year old does on FIFA when they choose the Park the Bus setting. The last time Tranmere beat us in 2000 was the infamous FA Cup tie at Prenton Park. Tranmere had Clint Hill sent off late on but managed to bring a substitute on for Hill and get away with it. Hill, who’d already been booked, brought down Alex Rae near the edge of the Tranmere box. Referee Rob Harris brandished a second yellow and Hill was sent off. However In the moments before the incident, Tranmere were lining up a sub, Stephen Frail was replacing Dave Challinor. As Hill exited the field, Frail entered and Challinor stayed on. There were only a matter of minutes left, and as the free-kick was swung in, Frail headed clear. The referee was then alerted to the mistake and rectified the issue. He restarted with the correct numbers on the field but only for a second or two before blowing the final whistle. The FA decided that replaying the game wasn’t necessary and Tranmere progressed to the next round of the cup. Let’s hope there isn’t a repeat of that incident but with the standard of refereeing in League One and Two you never know.
LEE JOHNSON HAS UNFINISHED BUSINESS AT WEMBLEY
Lee Johnson led his old club Barnsley to the EFL Trophy final in February 2016 but left before the final to take the Bristol City job. His successor Paul Heckingbottom guided Barnsley to the trophy with Josh Scowen coming on as a sub for the Tykes. Chris Maguire also played in the game but was on the losing side as a substitute for Oxford. Johnson will finally get the chance to be in the dugout at Wembley on March 14th and will hopefully lift the EFL Trophy five years after he passed up the chance too.
WE’RE IN A HIGHER DIVISION
Sunderland have never lost to a side in a lower division at Wembley however we’ve never actually played a lower division side at Wembley. Prior to this game each side we’ve faced at Wembley has either been in the same division as us or higher. We go into the game as clear favourites which should give us the edge. I know that being clear favourites can create a sense of pressure but we are a far better side than Tranmere with far better players. It is the first time in a long time where we go into a game at Wembley as clear favourites and is the best chance we are ever going to get to win at Wembley.
Despite all those reasons for us winning at Wembley I still have a very bad feeling that James Vaughan will score a last minute winner for Tranmere before shushing a non-existent crowd.