Since the famous 1973 FA Cup final where Sunderland defeated the then mighty and overwhelming favourites Leeds United, the Black Cats have failed to win at the home of football. Eight times fans have travelled from the North East in their thousands only to see their team fall short. Sunderland at Wembley brings back memories of iconic scenes from the past; however, they are currently on an eight-game losing streak.
Will Sunday’s game against Tranmere Rovers in the EFL Trophy bring an end to their terrible run and make it ninth time lucky at Wembley since that famous day almost 50 years ago?
Ninth Time Lucky for Sunderland at Wembley?
Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers Preview
The Black Cats and Rovers meet in the second EFL Trophy final of the weekend, the first being Portsmouth versus Salford City, the postponed final from last year. Salford ended up winning last season’s edition after Jason Lowe scored the deciding penalty in the shoot-out following a goalless draw. Sunderland’s previous appearance in this final was against Pompey in a losing effort in 2019. The red and whites lost on penalties following a dramatic 2-2 draw. This weekend, Lee Johnson’s men will be hoping to continue their fine form and collect the first trophy in several decades.
Sunderland Team News
As has been the case for several weeks, Sunderland will be forced to field a patched-up defence. Bailey Wright, Jordan Willis, Jake Vokins, Denver Hume and Dion Sanderson will be unavailable as will midfielder Carl Winchester. Fellow defender Conor McLaughlin could be available and Tom Flanagan should feature following his return to action in the victory at Portsmouth in midweek. Midfielder and captain Max Power is expected to continue at right-back and the versatile Luke O’Nien could once again feature at the heart of the defence.
Winger Jordan Jones and forward Aiden O’Brien are due to have fitness tests to determine their availability. In better news for Johnson, the experienced Grant Leadbitter will be available following his recovery from a dislocated shoulder.
Despite having issues elsewhere on the pitch, Johnson will be grateful that in-form striker Charlie Wyke is fit and hitting the net. Wyke is one of the form strikers in Europe at present and will undoubtedly be the first name on the Sunderland team sheet. The big striker has scored 26 goals in 39 games this season, making him one of the deadliest marksman on the continent. However, the former Bradford City striker is quick to praise the service he has been receiving. Speaking to the Sunderland Echo’s Phil Smith ahead of the final, he said: “The confidence is high in the group and I know that if I make those runs, the balls are going to come in from those wide areas.
“Geads, Jordan, or whoever else is playing in those positions. The wide play and delivery has been fantastic, so long may that continue. It’s not just me who has that confidence, it’s us as a team. Everyone is playing well and when lads are coming into the team, they’re producing as well. We’ve got a great squad and you can see the confidence from that.”
Sunderland are in Form and Confident
Sunderland are in form and have one of the best away records in the country. They have been beaten just once on their travels this season despite having serious issues in defence due to injuries. Confidence is also now high on Wearside following the arrival of head coach Lee Johnson and their new owner and chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus. The Black Cats are favourites and if they play the way they can, Tranmere will have a tough afternoon ahead.
Tranmere Team News
Rovers will be without former Black Cats striker James Vaughan at Wembley. Vaughan spent a disappointing half-season on Wearside before being sold. The much-travelled forward was injured in the defeat against Crawley Town and required knee surgery. Tranmere will also be without centre-back Sid Nelson and midfielder Otis Khan.
Although promotion is the main focus for this season, Rovers will want to win at Wembley to give them a confidence boost heading into the latter stages of the League Two season. However, with Keith Hill’s side being the underdogs, it would be a surprise to many if they were to emerge victorious despite being in the running for automatic promotion. Despite this, Hill will have his team set up to win. He told the Wirral Globe’s Richard Garnett: “We don’t practise failure. I’m exactly the same as any manager. You’re preparing your team to win a football match. I have a lot of enjoyment in my life but we’re often governed in the way that we think by whether you win or lose. But when you get to a final, no one remembers the losers do they?”
Sunderland at Wembley: Eight Time Losers Since Last Win
The Black Cats have endured a torrid time at Wembley over the past 35 years, be it at the Old Wembley with its famous twin towers or the new Wembley with its iconic arch. Here is a look back at the times Sunderland have visited Wembley since their famous FA Cup final victory. Sunday could be the Black Cats best chance to break their current losing streak and give them a springboard to achieve promotion.
1985 – League Cup Final
Sunderland faced Norwich City in the League Cup final following impressive performances in the previous rounds to reach Wembley. Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest were all defeated; however, on final day, despite being backed by thousands of fans, the team failed to perform. In a disappointing final it was an own goal by Sunderland defender David Corner which settled the game. A missed penalty made the long trip home even more frustrating for the Sunderland faithful.
1988 – Sunderland at Wembley for Football League Centenary Tournament
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Football League, a tournament was held at Wembley. Sixteen teams entered with Sunderland drawing Wigan Athletic. Due to the tournament lasting just two days and time being an issue, games were restricted to just 40 minutes and, if drawn, a penalty shootout ensued. Sunderland’s game ended 0-0 and they lost the shootout.
1990 – Play-Off Final
Following a famous victory of fierce rivals Newcastle United, Sunderland faced Swindon Town in the Divison Two (now the Championship) play-off final to determine who would be promoted to England’s top tier. In a one-sided game, Swindon won 1-0 thanks to a deflected shot. Despite losing, Sunderland were still promoted after Swindon were found guilty of financial irregularities and were demoted two divisions (one upon appeal) and the Black Cats took their place amongst England’s elite.
1992 – FA Cup Final
Struggling in the then Division Two, Sunderland found form in their cup games. Malcolm Crosby’s men had defied the odds to beat West Ham United, Chelsea and Norwich City to reach the final and face Liverpool. Despite being the underdogs, Sunderland had star forward John Bryne who had scored in every round leading up to the final. Crosby’s men were the better side in the first half and should have led at the break. Liverpool dominated the second-half as their strength began to show. Two goals sealed the win for the Reds to send Sunderland’s supporters home disappointed but proud of the team’s accomplishments.
1998 – Play-Off Final
Voted the greatest game to be played at the old Wembley Stadium, Sunderland faced Charlton Athletic in the Division One Play-Off Final for the chance to play Premier League football the next season. In a classic still replayed today the teams played out a thrilling 4-4 draw. Following extra-time, a penalty shoot-out was required. Both teams scored their first six penalties until Michael Gray stepped up to tamely hit his penalty which the Charlton keeper easily saved. The Addicks scored their next to break Sunderland’s hearts. The following season, Peter Reid’s side with the deadly partnership of Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn walked away with the Championship by reaching 105 points.
2013 – League Cup Final
Following a dramatic match at Old Trafford in the semi-final, Sunderland progressed to the final of the League Cup to face Manchester City. This was the Black Cats’ first trip to the new stadium and their allocation of over 31,000 tickets was sold almost instantly. Despite this, many fans who failed to get a ticket in the Sunderland end managed to get tickets for elsewhere in the ground meaning the red and whites outnumbered their sky blue counterparts.
An early Fabio Borini goal gave Gus Poyet’s side a deserved lead at half-time; however, City were a much-improved team in the second. Two strikes in quick succession gave City the lead but Sunderland were still in the game until almost the end. Striker Steven Fletcher missed a glorious chance and a City counter-attack lead to a third to finish the game
2019 Sees Sunderland at Wembley Twice
Two finals in quick succession came the Black Cats way in 2019. First was the EFL Trophy final against Portsmouth. More than 85,000 were in attendance to see a thrilling game. Sunderland dominated the first-half but only had an Aiden McGeady goal to show for their dominance. Pompey equalised in the second half before taking the lead in extra-time. A dramatic last-minute equaliser from McGeady shook Wembley and took the game into extra-time. Once again Sunderland fans witnessed another penalty shoot-out defeat as Pompey won the trophy with a 5-4 win on penalties.
In the same season, Jack Ross and his team were at Wembley once again in the play-off final to face Charlton. Just like the final in 1998, Athletic were the winners. Sunderland took an early lead but the scores were level by half-time. When the game looked to be heading for extra-time, the Addicks extended the Black Cats’ Wembley losing streak to nine with a 94th-minute winner.