Sunderland at Wembley: How fans back home shared agony and ecstasy of penalty shootout defeat
The Black Cats’ Checkatrade Trophy final clash with Portsmouth ended in despair after Lee Cattermole became the only player not to hit the net in a penalty shoot-out.
More than 40,000 Sunderland fans had headed for Wembley and a sell-out crowd which made the match the biggest in Europe this weekend.
Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden were turned red and white on Saturday night, as fans who had arrived in the Capital early descended in their droves.Early trains from Sunderland yesterday morning were packed, too, as the Red and White Army headed south.
Hundreds more of those who had not been lucky enough to secure a ticket for the big day crowded into pubs and clubs across the city in the hope their heroes could make it sixth time lucky at the National Stadium.
And it all started so well.Sunderland absolutely dominated the first half, keeping Portsmouth trapped in their own half.
Jack Ross’ side took a well-deserved lead when Aiden McGeady smashed home the freekick that he had won after being brought down brought down on the edge of the area.
Fans in Holmeside’s Ttonic went crazy as the ball hit the net and, such was Sunderland’s domination, that it seemed certain to the raucously good-natured audience it was only a matter of time until the Black Cats put the match beyond Pompey’s reach .
It was not, to be, however.
Portsmouth came out for the second half much the stronger and pinned Sunderland back, hitting the post twice, while fans could only pray that their team could hold on.
It looked as though those prayers might be answered for more than half an hour, before Portsmouth finally hit back through Nathan Thompson’s header.
Sunderland were clearly rattled by conceding so late and fans suffered anxious moments as Portsmouth pressed to win it in normal time.
It was not to be, however, and Sunderland started the first half of extra time the stronger.
The match was becoming increasingly niggly and the nerves on the pitch were transferred to the audience.
Hope turned to heartache when Portsmouth took the lead with barely five minutes of extra time left through Jamal Lowe’s quick-thinking chop over John McLaughlin, but Sunderland had one trick up their sleeve.
Just when all seemed lost, the fans were driven into ecstasy when McGeady bagged his second of the game to take it to penalties.
The ghost of play-off final disappointment against Charlton was clearly on a lot of people’s minds and matters were not helped when the TV cameras zoomed in on Michael Gray - the man whose miss cost promotion on that awful day in May 1998 - in one of the Wembley commentary boxes.
The fans watching on Wearside may have had their hearts in their mouths, but McGeady was cool as ice as he slotted home the first penalty after a stuttering run-up to wrongfoot MacGillivray in the Portsmouth goal.
But their hopes were soon dashed, as the Pompey keeper got his gloves to Cattermole’s well-hit shot to turn it round the post and put Sunderland on the backfoot.
Gooch, Power and O’Nien all found the net to keep Sunderland’s hopes of making it to sudden death alive, but Hawkins made it five-out-of-five for Portsmouth to ensure Sunderland - and their fans’- wait for a Wembley win goes on.