David Preece: Winning is important - this could be a dress rehearsal for the play-off final!

Tell me ma, me ma. I won’t be home for tea. Not until the Allsvenskan takes a summer break at the start of June anyway!

Friday, 29th March 2019, 12:17 pm
Updated Friday, 29th March 2019, 12:23 pm
Sunderland will face Portsmouth in Sunday's Checkatrade Trophy final.

No Wembley for me this weekend either as I’ll be at the Friends Arena in Stockholm with Ostersunds, preparing to face current champions AIK Stockholm in our first league game of the campaign.

It’s a little bit of a shame that I’m missing out on the “Checkatraaaaade, Checkatrade dot com” Trophy Final on Sunday, as I felt a part of this cup run.

It’s a cup that has grown on me, very much like ivy up a back garden fence. At the beginning, you wonder what to make of it all but if you see it out until the end you’re left with something nice to look at rather than just a wall of wood.

Perhaps that’s the wrong analogy. Maybe the competition is more like a sunflower seed.

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If you’re patient and look after it, then eventually you’ll be rewarded (look, I’m not into horticulture, so just go with it).

The thing is, it hasn’t felt like this has been a cup run that has been nurtured and taken care of until all the hard work has come to fruition.

Although we have been expected to get far, it feels like it’s happened, almost apologetically, by accident.

We had the “suck it and see” taster of the group games where Carlisle scored the only goal conceded by us on the way to the final, Morecombe succumbed to a very late goal by Josh Maja in front of a ridiculous 1,500 strong away support, and a 0-0 draw with Stoke City U21s where the only moments of excitement were provided by the battle for a bonus point penalty shoot-out.

Then, of course, there was the spectacle of the derby that wasn’t a derby (but really it was), followed by a leisurely victory over a Manchester City U21 side weakened by their EFL Trophy semi-final against Burton.

And, let’s be honest, our own semi-final down at Bristol was overcome with gears left to move into, if needed.

Naturally, the aim now is to win the game but as always with football, it throws up different narratives alongside that of the actual game.

As things stand in League 1, there’s every chance that this could just be a dress rehearsal for the play-off final in May and that’s why it is far from the free-hit-just-go-out-and-enjoy-yourselves experience it might otherwise be seen as.

With two games in hand on the continuously impressive Barnsley that could see us reel them in to pinch an automatic promotion place, even if that isn’t the case the experience of Wembley can only stand the team in good stead in preparing for another crack at a mini cup competition.

Defeats in big occasions can scar but injuries aside, nothing but positivity can come from Sunday, as it has done with every round so far.

For all its knockers, the competition has now given two of my old clubs a real boost in recent years and particularly in the case of Lincoln City, it allowed them to make history.

It’s just one part of the jigsaw in what is becoming an ever-impressive list of achievement by Danny and Nicky Cowley at Sincil Bank and I have no doubt that this can provide Sunderland with the same springboard to better things.

As for me, I can assure you that whatever happens at Wembley, it won’t be giving me the same thrill as sitting on the bench in front of more than 30,000 fans, hoping we can continue defying the odds and topple the big boys of Swedish football.

Here’s to three points - and the Checkatrade Trophy - come 5pm this Sunday afternoon.