David Preece: Have you thought about if Sunderland don't get to Wembley?
Have you thought about if we don’t get through to Wembley tonight?
Yeah, I know it’s a bit early to get all negative and drag my black cloud over everyone but I’m writing this on Wednesday lunch time and we were beaten 4-0 away to Hammarby last night and because of an electrical problem closing down the various tunnels around Stockholm, we missed our 11 am flight back to Östersund meaning a 5 hour stay at Arlanda Airport until the next one.
It was a tough one. We lost our skipper to injury after thirty seconds and conceded a goal while he was off the pitch being assessed and down to 10 men. Add to that a goal where there was clearly a foul in the lead to it and two careless passes being punished in the most clinical of ways, it was not a good night in the Swedish capital.
Going 3-0 down after just 29 minutes leaves you with more of an Everest climb than an uphill task but as we have seen in the past week, 3-0 can be the most precarious of leads. Where there’s hope, there’s chance, right?
There was to be no miracle comeback for us though. We had few chances to reel in some respectability to the scoreline but a fourth on the hour put pay to any aspirations of revival.
It’s a different proposition for Jack Ross and his side at what will definitely be a fractious Fratton Park tonight. Fractious because you could really sense an edge in the first leg at the Stadium of Light with Chris Maguire so obviously getting under the skin of the Pompey players. Along with the little bit of magic we know he possesses, he can be caustic which can be both an advantage in unsettling teams in a one off game but also a disadvantage when giving the opposition an extra incentive to put one over on Sunderland.
Portsmouth are a good side who with a manager who knows his way around games like this. Add the old fashioned partizan atmosphere their fans create at their old ground and I just feel that this is going to be a tough, tough experience for a Sunderland side who seem to have been put through the mill a bit this season.
Whilst expectations may have eased and replaced by a real air of realism because of the massive changes being made in the restructuring of club in steep decline, most outwit the boundaries of the city saw Sunderland as a sitting duck. Most League 1 teams have raised their game and have seemed to have taken a real dislike to the club and taken any chance to mock or take shots at our expense . That’s fine. It’s the competitive nature of football and as the big gun in the division, you’re there to be toppled.
Fleetwood Town and Joey Barton’s glee at beating us sticks in the throat a bit, and you know that Newcastle fans will always be there waiting for Sunderland to fail. But do you know what? It really doesn’t matter.
I know what promotion means to the club financially and it goes without saying that the aim for everyone is progress and eventually success but as long as we don’t stray into disaster territory then what others perceive as failure can still be a vital part of the plan.
So, yes, going through to Wembley for a second time this season and experiencing play-off ecstasy could just be the tonic to fix the disappointment felt by all at the end of the regular season.
But if we don’t, the good news is it really doesn’t matter whether we win at Fratton Park tonight because there is something bigger at stake for the future of the club and perhaps the city itself as a whole. The bad news is, you’re going to have to wait until this time next week again to find out what it is.