Charlie Methven on Sunderland hitting twin targets, Wembley, financial bonus and nervy end to the season
If you’d been asked, this time last year, where Sunderland would be in 12 months, what would you have said?
Perhaps you’d have retained optimism that Chris Coleman’s side would survive, or that even if they didn’t, relegation would be a fresh start and a chance for revival.
You couldn’t have been sure, though.
And many would have quite rightly held major concerns about the future of the club, on the pitch and especially off it.
In so many ways, that is what this weekend at Wembley will be all about.
The potential thrill of seeing George Honeyman lift sliverware, absolutely, but also a chance to reflect on the club’s journey back from the brink.
Winning the Checkatrade Trophy will not make this a successful campaign, but it will be something to relish.
That was never lost on Charlie Methven, who twice saw his beloved Oxford United make it to this showpiece final at the national stadium.
They were runners-up on both occasions, but last year’s saw a remarkable attendance of 74,434 as Coventry City sealed a narrow win.
This year, Sunderland and Portsmouth will smash that.
“Oxford were in the final two years running so we’ve seen what a fantastic occasion it can be,” Methven told the Echo as part of our 24-page Wembley preview supplement, free in today’s paper.
“So we actually said to Jack [Ross] at the start of the season not to underestimate it.
“Both financially and morale-wise it can be a real boost to any club.
“At the start of the season there were only two competitions we entered that we could realistically win, so why not try to win them both?
“It means a lot to us that whatever unfolds in the league, the fans have at least had some fun and glory this season, especially after all the years of despair and misery,” he added.
“The best thing about the Checkatrade is that, yes it matters, but not too much. Even if you lose (which we won’t, of course!), it doesn’t spoil the weekend.”
Ross has managed it perfectly, giving game time to promising youngsters and senior players in need of minutes.
On only one occasion did he risk a very youthful side, against Morecambe when progression from the group stages was all but guaranteed.
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They won anyway, a host of academy products acquitting themselves well as Josh Maja scored a late winner.
The reward is this grand weekend but there has been a financial boost, too.
A boost that clearly would pale in comparison to the rise in TV money and all other benefits of getting into the Championship, but a welcome one in a year when balancing the books has been absolutely crucial.
“I’ve said all through the season that winning the Checkatrade would be worth up to a million quid, compared to be knocked out in the group stages,” Methven said.
“The share of the gate receipts, the TV money, the prize money and of course, any retail boost the club gets from making it to Wembley.”
Sunderland’s season is delicately poised.
Ten games in just over five weeks could determine whether they hit their two key targets or miss them.
It has been a very encouraging start to a new era so far but Methven is keen to stress that nothing has been won yet.
Even so, some exceptional work has been done on and off the pitch in the last 10 months and this final will be a chance to reflect on and celebrate that fact.
“Our targets for this season were promotion and winning the Checkatrade,” Methven said.
“The good thing is that Jack and the players have put themselves in the position to achieve that. That is all you can ask, both the league and the cup in their hands.
“Jack has done well to get us to this point, given where we were when he took over.
“It’s all very well saying Sunderland is a big club in League One, but that ignores the reality that as of last May the business was in absolute ruins, in all areas.
“It’s not easy to create any short-term success out of that level of chaos and negativity, so to even get into this position is admirable.
“I think that the two weeks off we currently have is a good opportunity to take a deep breath and mentally prepare for the rest of the season.
“Those crucial last 10 games start with the final and conclude just five weeks later with Southend away,” he added.
“It’s going to be hectic and doubtless nervy, but we must remember that it will be the same for other clubs.”
Don’t miss today’s FREE 24-page Wembley supplement in your Echo.