A moment of brilliance to savour from Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch but Wembley wasn't the same without thousands of Sunderland fans

The Wembley final fans were ordered to forget finally provided the antidote to the pain and suffering the national stadium has liberally handed out to Sunderland.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 4:00 pm

Seven straight Wembley defeats had followed their last and arguably greatest triumph on this hallowed stage in 1973.

And after Portsmouth edged them in this same trophy final two years ago one tabloid headline said it all: “Sunderland do football cruelty better than anyone”.

Now, at last, the hoodoo has been broken by a 1-0 win secured by Lynden Gooch’s cool finish from Aiden McGeady’s sublime through ball.

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Sunderland's Wembley win was played behind-closed-doors.

Yet the footballing gods still had one final twist of the knife despite the joy that greeted Max Power’s triumphant lifting of the trophy.

For their fans were denied entry when it mattered.

For if Old Trafford is the Theatre of Dreams then the still fresh, new Wembley is an even bigger stage to be denied its usual props and the throng that should have been watching on.

Sunderland’s fans joined Tranmere’s in being condemned to watch on TV from tens of thousands of living rooms.

Sunderland fans had to watch the action from home.

Those Mackems who had made the Checkatrade pilgrimage in 2019 for the same showpiece – on that occasion against Portsmouth – had helped set a record attendance of 85,021.

This time there was no fleet of coaches setting off at daft o’clock from the Stadium of Light to snake almost the length of England; no rush to make early trains from Sunderland or Newcastle.

When I got to Wembley, there was a kind of a roar...a roaring silence. No fans spilling out of Wembley Park’s Metropolitan Line halt, none checking their bearings as they exited Wembley’s overground station.

The pubs and bars Sunderland fans might have expected to take over - given their 2019 experience – were barred and shuttered. The Parish Irish bar on Wembley Park Drive was silenced, not a Guinness in sight.

There was no raucous carousing, no singing here. Same story at The Torch on Wembley’s Bridge Road...it was dimmed.

Two years ago, Sunderland fans took over three other bars on the same stretch of Wembley Park Drive – the Double 6, The Wembley Tavern and the Premier Inn.

Only litter rustled in the gutters this time.

And no fan zone. This time the zone was splintered into a multitude of front rooms with families tuned in.

No chants, no jostling, no groups with arms linked for that obligatory picture on Wembley Way or at the foot of Bobby Moore’s statue.

I sniffed, straining for the doubtful pleasure of grilling burgers or sausages – nothing, zilch, nada. Not even a hint of a pizza bar to please the Papa John’s sponsors.

Not a single assault on the senses for Sunderland fans until it came, remotely and socially distanced, of course, courtesy of McGeady and Gooch’s moment of magic.

It was a moment to savour. But football glory was never meant to be played out or served up in a vacuum.

After so many disappointments, this was a victory for the club and team but the fans’ turn will have to wait.

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