Sunderland boss Jack Ross says winning the Checkatrade Trophy would be a “starting point” for the club as they look to bounce back from the disappointments of recent years.
The Black Cats face Portsmouth in Sunday’s final at Wembley, a match set to attract the biggest attendance in the competition’s history, with 85,000 fans expected to be present.
The Wearside outfit – currently fourth in Sky Bet League One, a place and a point below Pompey – are attempting to rebuild after suffering back-to-back relegations in the last two seasons.
Ross, who took charge last summer, was quoted on Sunderland’s official website as saying of the club’s fans: “There’s been a lot of loyalty and a lot of commitment shown by them this season, and a lot of that was shown before a ball was kicked when things were relatively unknown because of all the changes going on at the club.
“Hopefully at times in the league we’ve rewarded that. But this is a good chance to give them that obvious reward with the weekend away, and the next step for us is to deliver them that trophy.
“I know they will go and enjoy the occasion, but they’ll only really enjoy it if we win. The goal for us is that when the full-time whistle goes, they’re staying in the stadium because they’re celebrating us winning the trophy.
“If we can do that it’s a starting point. It by no means makes up completely for the disappointments of previous years, but it is a starting point.”
He added: “There are so many motivating factors to win on Sunday, the obvious ones people will be aware of, but there’s so many more than just the obvious ones as well. With where the club’s been, it clearly means a lot.”
Sunderland’s last appearance at Wembley was their 3-1 loss to Manchester City in the 2014 League Cup final.
For Portsmouth, it was their 1-0 FA Cup final defeat against Chelsea in 2009-10, the season the Fratton Park club were relegated from the Premier League.
Pompey boss Kenny Jackett was quoted on his club’s website as saying: “It’s not a normal game – it’s a one-off contest in a cup competition and it changes things slightly with such a big prize.
“But my job is to make sure we can just focus on the football. We have to concentrate and be at our best to win.
“It’s about separating the occasion from the game itself and making sure that we get our performance right.
“Yes, it’s a fantastic feeling to walk out at Wembley and something I’ve been privileged enough to do before – I’m looking forward to that side of things on Sunday.
“After that, though, you have to make sure your game head is on and focus on trying to win a football match.”