Our performance against Portsmouth the other night was the best I’ve seen in a very long time so we’re going into today’s match on a high. Yesterday’s League One results didn’t go badly for us either. Like Bob Stokoe did back in 1973 Lee Johnson has got his feet firmly on the ground and is paying Tranmere all due respect. Tranmere have a lot of experience and we saw yesterday how Salford toppled Portsmouth so today’s result is by no means a foregone conclusion. From what I’ve read Woolery is their main danger-man and I’d rather McFadzean wasn’t up against him while we know that ex-Sunderland favourite (not) James Vaughan isn’t available. Jones is injured and both Sanderson and Winchester won’t be eligible but we’ve been boosted by the news that Leadbitter and McLaughlin will be back in the squad and I think we’ll win it within the ninety minutes. If we get an early goal, I think we’ll win quite comfortably otherwise it could well get very edgy. Like many of you, I’ve thought for ages that after seven winless trips to Wembley we were nailed on to win when none of us could be there – such is the nature of the universe. I’ll be watching the match as usual with my Sunderland bubble and my match prediction is a 2-1 win.
I got to the bubble around 2.15 but I didn’t have a beer because my first Covid-vaccine appointment was set for 6.20. As for our starting line-up, Leadbitter was in and we had plenty of flair with McGeady, Maguire and Gooch. As an unexpected bonus both Kimpioka and new boy Stewart were on the bench. Micky Gray was on the bench in the Sky studio and I have to say I didn’t recognise him. My fellow bubblers predicted a 3-0 or 4-1 win.
We did most of the early pressing but our passing was going astray too often and Tranmere weren’t allowing us much space. They were also managing to keep us well away from their box most of the time. O’Nien was looking very cool while taking a few risks in our box but I hoped he wouldn’t continue to do so. In the fifteenth minute Burge did well to gather a deflected ball from Leadbitter when it looked like going in but things improved just afterwards when a low Maguire shot wasn’t too far wide of their left post. A Maguire foul gave Tranmere a free-kick in a dangerous spot near the left angle of our box and Burge flicked it away for a throw. We won the first corner of the game in the twenty-second minute when McGeady had made his first really telling run but it came to nothing. McFadzean got a bash in the face as Tranmere attacked and the game was stopped for a couple of minutes. It was a very even game and Tranmere looked confident coming forward. We won a free-kick in a good spot that resulted in a Maguire effort going for our second corner and Power got a header in that went just wide. Wyke became our third player to receive a head injury but he recovered too. Maguire blasted over another free-kick from a very scoreable spot and at the other end O’Nien was supercool in nodding it back to Burge after Flanagan had fluffed a stop. There were only five minutes to the break and the game had gone quickly. Gooch had barely had a sniff so far and we bubblers were all for having him subbed. I was sure Kimpioka could do some damage. We had a great chance when a Maguire pass to McGeady in plenty of space went begging. Flanagan was injured again and was subbed by McLaughlin, which suited me actually. Tranmere won their first corner which was headed clear and then only three minutes of stoppage-time were announced. It remained goalless at the break and we certainly hadn’t been at our best while Tranmere had limited our attacks well. It was looking like a 1-0 or penalties. Why was everyone wearing black armbands?
There were no changes as we kicked off again. Three minutes in, Burge had to palm away a strong shot and we were looking rattled. Shortly afterwards a mistake on the left allowed McGeady to put in a low cross that Wyke should have stabbed in but he couldn’t connect. We seemed to have more zip about us but could we make it count? The answer to that was ‘yes’ as in the fifty-eighth minute a beautiful low pass from McGeady fed the onrunning Gooch and he smashed it into the net. We’d all been saying that Gooch should be subbed but were glad to eat humble pie. Five minutes later Diamond replaced Maguire and I hoped his good luck at Wembley would continue. Tranmere made a double substitution and alarm bells were definitely going off in my head about David Nugent. Those subs gave Tranmere an immediate injection and we were on the rack for a few minutes, conceding three corners. Blackett-Taylor was looking very handy down their left but Burge was displaying a safe pair of hands. Well, having just typed that he dropped the ball in the box but managed to grab it again. Time had been dragging but it was speeding up again and suddenly there were just thirteen minutes to go. We’d taken the sting out of Tranmere for a while but I was looking at the clock regularly all the same. With five minutes to go Diamond went on a break down the middle and was fouled, winning a free-kick in great spot but we wasted it. Then it was our turn to concede a kick in a great spot and it was nerve-wracking but O’Nien, who’d played a stormer, headed it away. I reckoned there couldn’t be much stoppage-time and was relieved to see there were only only three minutes. Power took a yellow for the team when he fouled Blackett-Taylor and that was the last real action of the match as we retained the ball well and that whistle finally went.
Finally we’ve broken that Wembley hoodoo, as we’ve broken several others recently. Fair dues to Tranmere, who made it tough for us, but we were generally solid at the back and another piece of McGeady magic won the game. Time for that jab.