Sunderland's Wembley win: Simon O'Rourke on the "trinket" that matters

Sunderland goalkeeper Lee Burge (left) and Luke O'Nien celebrates with the Papa John's Trophy after the 2021 final at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday, March 14, 2021.
Sunderland goalkeeper Lee Burge (left) and Luke O'Nien celebrate at with the trophy. Credit: PA Images
  • Blog by ITV News Tyne Tees sports correspondent Simon O'Rourke

48 years is a long time. So this matters. No one was there, so it was really, really strange. But it still matters. Sunderland have won at Wembley for the first time since 1973 and it's a historic weight off their shoulders.

It matters because it feeds a positive narrative. It matters because the Black Cats have been universally considered "losers" over the past few years.

And it matters because they might have to go back to Wembley again for the playoffs in a couple of months and at least now there isn't that weight of history to carry. But maybe that last bit won't be necessary - more on that in a moment.

It was the EFL Trophy Final, a match between a League 1 team and a League 2 team. So perhaps unsurprisingly this was not "the beautiful game".

Tranmere deserved plenty of credit for the verve and passion of their performance. They were overmatched in terms of talent, but they very nearly bridged that gap through sheer hard work.

Credit: PA Images

Sunderland have played much, much better than this in recent weeks, but they found a way. And actually, all that'll ultimately be remembered is the winning goal, and that was a beautiful moment.

Aiden McGeady was the hot knife slicing through butter and Lynden Gooch produced the fine finish the pass deserved.

So Sunderland got to lift a cup at Wembley and it was a historically cathartic moment. There have been too many tears, too many missed penalties, too much Wembley agony in recent times for it not to matter.

But this was not the journey's end. People shouldn't sneer at winning the Trophy - if you're in League 1, why not win it? - but it was just the trophy. It's a trinket, a free gift, a weekend escape from reality.

But now Sunderland needs to try and make it more than that. What if this victory eventually goes down as the first step on the road back to relevance? What if this comes to be seen as Wearside's turning point?

To see Kyril Louis-Dreyfus on the pitch, mixing with the players at the end, was to see a fresh start. A new, young owner, with new ideas and new targets. A (comparatively) new Head Coach, Lee Johnson, who's had an impressive beginning at Sunderland.

PA Images Credit: Sunderland owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus (left) and Max Power after the final whistle.

There's a sniff of hope now. A feeling that finally and after much, too much heartbreak, the Black Cats are ready to turn the page.

But to properly do that they need to get promoted. That was always the goal this season and no amount of Wembley gloss can disguise that.

This victory should help. Johnson's Sunderland had momentum in the League anyway and for the past month, they've looked like the best team in the division.

Automatic promotion is very much within reach and now they have more momentum.

Presumably, somebody (probably Max Power, who lifted the Trophy at Wembley) stood up in the dressing room after the match and said something along the lines of, "There are 13 games left and we should be looking to win every single one of them".

Sunderland feels positive again and that's a refreshing change. But I must mention the negative. Football without fans can feel soulless. Cup finals without fans feel ridiculous.

The joy of victory is mixed with the sorrow of knowing the red and white army weren't along for the ride.

We all know the reason it's like this, but it just felt wrong. The fountains, monuments and off licences of Central London missed out on a bonanza.

So Wearside's Wembley woes are over. It won't resonate through history like Porterfield's goal, Monty's double save, or Bob Stokoe's joyous run onto the pitch in 1973. But it mattered. It definitely mattered.