Sunderland end 48-year Wembley hoodoo with EFL Trophy triumph
There are some things you never lose and even at the age of 34, Aiden McGeady can still spot a pass, threading one through the narrowest of gaps to send Lynden Gooch to score the goal that secured Sunderland their first trophy for 48 years.
It may only be the Papa John’s Trophy, the largely unloved competition that pits the teams from Leagues One and Two against Premier League development squads, but after so many setbacks, false dawns and seven successive defeats at Wembley, this was a moment to enjoy for manager Lee Johnson.
They have McGeady to thank. Picking the ball up inside his own half, he drove forward and with Gooch pointing where he wanted the ball to be, McGeady put it there with the perfect speed for the USA international to run on to before finishing with a lifted finish over goalkeeper Scott Davies.
“I’ve been at this club since I was 10-year-old and this means so much to me and the club,” said Gooch, who made his debut for Sunderland when they were still a Premier League outfit under David Moyes.
“It’s a massive moment. The manager has come and energised us, we are always looking to play on the front foot and hopefully we can follow this up with promotion.”
There was a lot to admire in Tranmere, who took a few minutes to have a look at Sunderland, like a boxer assessing the feints and bobs of the man coming at him from the opposite corner, before working out a way to nullify their threat.
Sunderland were well contained, McGeady and Chris Maguire, their two most creative players, could not find any pockets of space and other than a tame header by Charlie Wyke, a deflected shot from Maguire and botched header by the former Tranmere player Max Power, the Black Cats were unthreatening. Maguire failing to make a simple pass to McGeady, who was unmarked in the area, summing things up.
Tranmere were not merely content to shut out Sunderland and it was the Black Cats goalkeeper Lee Burge who made the best save of the half, when Paul Lewis’s effort deflected off Grant Leadbitter and was dropping under the crossbar as Burge frantically back peddled to make the save, dropping the ball rather than carry it across the goaline, before gathering it again.
The former Coventry City goalkeeper also made another important intervention, punching the ball clear almost off the forehead of Lewis before Josh Scowen made a goal saving block to deny Danny Lloyd.
No wonder the League Two side began confidently after the break and they fashioned the best chance so far early on when Otis Khan wriggled free down the right side of the area after a great pass from Lloyd, only to see his shot well saved by Burge.
That drew a response from Sunderland, McGeady putting the ball across the six yard box but Wyke failed to get a touch. It was a sign of what was to come from the old timer, whose legs are not showing any sign of slowing.
Tranmere, though, came back at them. Only Manchester City have won more games this year than Keith Hill’s side and substitute Corey Blackett-Taylor dribbling into the area and forcing another save from Burge.
“We took this competition seriously and we have just fallen a little bit short today,” said Hill. “I’m so proud, the scoreboard doesn’t lie, but it doesn’t mean we are losers, we can be inspired to go on and win promotion. I’m so proud of everyone.”
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