Lee Johnson was appointed as Sunderland boss in early December
13 March 2021

Lee Johnson sees Papa John’s Trophy as chance for silverware, not a distraction

13 March 2021

Sunderland boss Lee Johnson insists Sunday’s Papa John’s Trophy final against Tranmere at Wembley is no distraction for his promotion chasers.

The Black Cats are well placed to climb back out of the third tier at the third attempt following relegation in 2018, after winning six of their last seven league matches.

However, they are winless in eight trips to Wembley since shocking Leeds to win the FA Cup final in 1973.

In recent times, they lost to Portsmouth on penalties in the 2019 EFL Trophy final and two months later were beaten in the Sky Bet League One play-off final by Charlton.

However, Johnson stressed Sunday’s Wembley return is not a trip his side could do without.

“I would tell you if I did, but I honestly don’t feel like that,” he said. “I think it’s a chance for silverware.

“It’s a chance to make the fans feel proud and lighten up their week or year and I think it gives you the platform to be able to kick on.

“We want to keep winning games, it’s as simple as that. I don’t think it will derail us if we lose and at the same time I don’t think it’s going to add huge amounts if we win.”

Sunderland are building up a head of steam under Johnson. Since defeat at home to Wigan on the day his appointment was confirmed on December 5, they have lost just twice in 22 matches in all competitions.

“Consistency is the important thing. It’s the consistency of the performance, which then leads to results,” the former Bristol City manager said.

After his side had sealed a second EFL Trophy final appearance in three seasons by seeing off Lincoln on penalties in their semi-final, Johnson said he hoped it was the start of the club’s “resurrection”.

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus became the club’s new chairman the following day after his takeover was approved by the English Football League and now Johnson is keen to deliver the trophy for the fans.

“That’s what we want,” he said. “That’s what we’re fighting for. We’ve got to make sure we do everything and leave nothing out there.

“We’ve got to perform. We know that. We know it’s a difficult game. We’ve got full respect for a good Tranmere side and a really good manager (Keith Hill), who’s had a lot of games.

“So they’ll have a few tricks up their sleeve and they’ve certainly got the firepower and the communication, if you like, to hurt us.

“It’s a difficult game, but it’s one we’re going to really relish and try and bring out a courageous performance.

“That’s really what I want to see, a lot of courage from my team.”

League Two Tranmere have become Wembley regulars in recent seasons with this being their fourth visit in as many years.

Rovers lost the 2017 National League play-off final there to Forest Green before securing successive promotions with Wembley wins over Boreham Wood and Newport in 2018 and 2019.

Tranmere have won four of their six games since reaching Wembley and boss Hill said: “The Papa John’s Trophy has allowed us to take those performances into our league form.

“It has been important to create a winning culture and strive for a winning environment.

“From a confidence point of view, it’s brilliant knowing that we can win games against any opposition and we are confident with due respect to Sunderland, they are an excellent side who have got an excellent manager.

“It’s about preparing the team for the opposition tactically and supporting the players, but when you get to the final, you have to be ready.”

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