Sunderland will be looking to pick up their first piece of silverware in the Papa John’s Trophy final against Tranmere Rovers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.
The Black Cats booked their spot in the final after beating Lincoln City in the semi-final, and they won’t be taking anything for granted heading into the clash with Ketih Hill’s side.
Sunderland are currently sat fourth in the League One table, and just eight points adrift of league-leaders Hull City with three matches in hand over the Tigers.
Whilst Tranmere Rovers are fifth in the division below, and will fancy their chances of causing an upset on the day against the Black Cats.
Speaking exclusively to Football League World’s Jacob Potter, former Chelsea and Tranmere Rovers winger Pat Nevin admitted that he’d be gutted if Sunderland weren’t to win promotion back into the Championship this season, whilst also stating that Lee Johnson’s side are favourites heading into the clash at Wembley on Sunday.
“They’re favourites to win this. They’ve got every chance to get back into the Championship. I’ll be honest, I’ll be gutted if they don’t this season. I think they’re a club that deserve to be there. The structure of the club wasn’t good for a long time. There was nothing wrong with the management, and they had some very good managers, but the structure wasn’t right.
“With the structure, you need a direction to head in, and I think they’ve got that now. They’ve been at the top end for a while, and I’ll be gutted if they don’t go up this season. If they go up this season, then I don’t think they need to win this cup, it should be left to Tranmere! That’s me being completely biased!”
Nevin went on to claim that Sunderland won’t wan to win promotion via the play-offs this term, and will be eager to challenge for automatic promotion, before reminiscing in his time with former club Tranmere Rovers and the tag that they had from other teams that they used to their advantage.
“They need to put their thoughts into that because every game they’ve got coming up in the league is absolutely vital. Sunderland would like to go up, but not through the play-offs, just straight up. It looks on paper obviously as if Sunderland are favourites.
“Because they’ve got the ‘little old Tranmere Rovers’ tag, people think ‘they’re nice, they’re cute, they’re sweet’, but we didn’t think that. We always thought that it gives us an advantage as they might underestimate us. There might be a little bit of that this weekend and they should underestimate Tranmere at all, and if they do, then Tranmere have got a right old chance of winning this match.”
Fans won’t be in attendance at Wembley due to the current off-the-field situation, and Nevin admitted that if supporters had have been allowed into the stadium, then Sunderland might have had the advantage in this one.
“It’s horrible that the fans are missing out, as it won’t be the same. Does it give either team an advantage? I don’t think it does. I think they’re now used to it, as it’s been long enough now.
“They just have to deal with it. Had the fans been in the ground, there would have been a slight advantage to Sunderland as there probably would have been more Sunderland fans in there. I’m not sure it helps or hinders either team too much with no supporters in attendance.”
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One player that could potentially cause Tranmere problems on the day is Sunderland forward Charlie Wyke, with the Black Cats forward being in hugely impressive form this season, with 25 goals to his name from his 38 appearances in all competitions.
Nevin went on to highlight the importance of keeping the 28-year-old quiet during the clash at Wembley, whilst also admitting that James Vaughan’s absence for the League Two side will be tough to take.
“I think Tranmere might just sneak it. If they can keep Wyke quiet then we’ve got a chance. It could be down to something like that. If he’s on fire and they give him space, then Rovers could be in trouble. It really could come down to nothing more than that. James Vaughan’s missing, which will be a painful one for Tranmere, because he’s one player who you seriously need to rely on.”
Kevin Phillips/Pat Nevin will be a studio guest for Quest’s highlights of the Papa John’s Trophy Final on Sunday. Stream on discovery+.