Jack Ross confident Sunderland won't freeze on the big Wembley stage - and here's why
Jack Ross is confident his Sunderland squad won’t freeze under the pressure of a showpiece Wembley final in front of 80,000 fans.
Sunderland face Portsmouth in the Checkatrade Trophy final on Sunday with both sides taking 40,000 supporters to the capital this weekend.
Ross has no qualms over his players’ ability to cope with the mental demands on them as Sunderland aim to win their first piece of silverware in 46-years.
Not since the 1973 FA Cup final have the Black Cats been successful in a cup competition and when it comes to a final, winning the mental and physical battle is equally as important.
Ross said: “There will be those players that you know can deal with that either through what you see everyday on the training pitch and in games or through what they have already achieved in their career.
“And then others who you believe will handle it but you won’t know until they are out there.
“This group has shown they are mentally tough and have dealt with big crowds and challenges.
“It has never concerned me, their ability to handle the occasion.
“The squad is desperate to be involved, there is extra intensity in training.”
The Sunderland players not involved in international action had a free weekend last Saturday before returning to the Academy of Light earlier this week for intense training as preparations crank up for Sunday’s final.
Ross says the early part of the week felt like a ‘normal’ build-up but appreciates the intensity and hype around the final will now build.
Ross said: “I have to try and remember to enjoy it! This week has felt like a normal week with the preparation into making sure the team is ready.
“But it does have that extra special feel about it and it will feel more acute as we get closer to the game.
“It is an honour for me to lead the club in a final at Wembley. You don’t know how many times you will get to do this.
“I’d hope it won’t be the only time but you have to remember to enjoy it.
“It is my job to win football matches, make the club better, bring success. As I get older I will look back on it more fondly.
“If I do that Sunday then I will probably sit back and say I have done my job properly, that is the only way I get satisfied.
“Preparation is much the same, it is a team in our league. We have played them previously this year.
“The biggest difference will be the game itself. It is very difficult to prepare everyone properly for what a cup final entails because of the emotion and adrenaline involved.
“When people go down with cramp people say it is because of the size of the pitch, the pitch is the same as other big pitches, it is because of the amount of adrenaline of being involved in a cup final.”
Sunderland haven’t lost since Portsmouth beat them in late December at Fratton Park following Glenn Loovens’ red card.
Both sides are also gunning for automatic promotion, with Pompey climbing above Sunderland into third last weekend.
Ross added: “It is two teams that have enjoyed good league seasons to date, have had to ensure they have stayed close to Luton and Barnsley.
“We know their qualities and how difficult the game at Fratton Park was. There were a lot of things in the first half we were pleased about.
“We go into the game in a good frame of mind, because of the run we are on and the form we are on.
“It was the last game we lost in any competition.
“We want to keep the unbeaten run going, through Sunday and beyond it will give us a good chance of success this season.”