Lee Johnson has this clear message as Sunderland look to secure place in Wembley final

Sunderland's primary ambition this season is promotion from League One but from just about day one, Lee Johnson has been clear that winning the Papa John's Trophy is a genuine aspiration.

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 6:00 am

A 2-1 win at Oldham Athletic in his second game may well have been mostly about getting his ideas embedded in an 'extended training session', but his selections have been consistently strong and Wednesday evening will be no different.

For one, the head coach has unfinished business in this competition.

Johnson led Barnsley to the final of the then Johnstone Paint Trophy in 2016, but left to join Bristol City before Paul Heckingbottom oversaw a 3-2 win against Oxford United.

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Lee Johnson has unfinished business in the Papa John's Trophy

Lincoln City will provide a stern test of Sunderland's credentials, a team top of League One with 'great agility and ball-handling ability', as Johnson puts it.

The reward may well be one of the stranger Wembley finals, with no fans likely to be present.

It will have to be a 'virtual day out' for the club and its supporters but Johnson still believes it's an occasion worth being part of.

"It's big, I want to get a new suit and go to Wembley," Johnson said.

"I’ve played at Wembley, but I haven’t actually managed there. It was a strange one really. I was the manager of Barnsley before I was purchased by Bristol City. "We won the semi-final at Fleetwood, and I went to the final as a guest of the owner and got booed by about 60,000 people!

"Thankfully, Barnsley won, so I was happy for the boys. It would be nice to get there again and do it properly this time though."

Many felt Sunderland's run to the final in 2019 proved to be a key factor in their poor late season form, and after seeing his Bristol City side fall away after reaching a Carabao Cup semi final in 2018, Johnson is well aware of the need to rotate.

He does not see this game or competition as a distraction, though, but a chance to keep players fresh and hungry when their minutes might otherwise be limited.

There is another incentive to perform on Wednesday night, too.

Johnson wants 'to flatten the waves' within the club, ensuring they stay balanced both in defeat and victory.

But he has also spoken of ensuring that the club sheds its capacity for 'self-sabotage', the capacity to deliver a poor performance or result just when a corner seems to have turned.

So Lincoln's visit represents an important opportunity to back up what many hoped was something of a breakthrough win against Doncaster Rovers.

"I don't feel like [it's a distraction]," Johnson said.

"I've been at clubs where the extra games from a cup run has made things difficult.

"We've got a few issues for this one [defensive injuries], no doubt, but it's a semi final and one we want to win.

"But we want to give the fans as much of a feel-good factor as we can.

"I think that was what was so disappointing about losing to Shrewsbury last week, we could see and feel that we'd let people down.

"The win against Doncaster was a great response to that and hopefully we keep that feel-good factor going by winning this one."

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