Lee Johnson has this message as he outlines why Papa John's Trophy success is important for Sunderland

26 managers have come and gone since Bob Stokoe oversaw Sunderland's last win at Wembley.

Saturday, 13th March 2021, 5:00 pm

History, though, is no burden for Lee Johnson

Sunderland's Head Coach sees an opportunity. Even if this will be the strangest of finals, with no fans and more important games on the immediate horizon, there is a chance to mark the start of a new era on Wearside.

On his first day in the job Johnson said he wanted his Sunderland to be bold and to be brave.

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Sunderland Head Coach Lee Johnson
Sunderland Head Coach Lee Johnson

What better way to signal your intent than at the national stadium?

"It would mean a lot to win," Johnson said.

"Not just on a personal level, for everybody. As one of the leaders of an organisation you want to do your bit, come in every day and work hard to improve the team and the fortunes of the club.

"Ultimately it's about the players and I believe in our squad.

"What I want for them is, OK it might be a small part in a big history of the football club, but make no mistake in 20, 30 years time you are a successful squad because you won.

"And when their pictures are up in the academy because Jack Diamond and other players involved have come through the youth system.

"It would show that OK, this is a new dawn.

"We asked everyone to be brave, to be courageous, and this is a good showpiece for our philosophy and our game, to see whether it can come out when it matters most.

"The reason we competed so hard and so well in the earlier rounds was for this moment.

"Now you've got to perform mentally and physically when it matters most.

"Some people frown upon this competition and I think that's unfair. I think you should want to be the best of the third and fourth division.

"This competition was important for a number of reasons. One, to help build cohesion and then as we got further forward, then of course it's a chance to put silverware in the cabinet.

"No one should never turn their nose up at that and we've got to fight hard to bring it home."

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus joked with Johnson this week that he was hoping to sub in the 'water-carrier' Dider Deschamps for the final.

Deschamps won three Coupe de la Ligue titles at Marseille during the Louis-Dreyfus era and though tongue was firmly in cheek, the significance of an early trophy is lost on none of Sunderland's new ownership team.

There are bigger goals for the season at large but Johnson knows that winning an early trophy would build the sense of a corner turned.

He has warned against complacency at every turn this week, noting the strength of Tranmere's squad, the unfairness of their relegation last season and the time his Kilmarnock side beat Celtic in a final as 18/1 outsiders.

It speaks to his determination to get over the line, knowing what it would mean to the supporters.

"A big part of me being here and wanting to be here was that feeling of the fans, being somewhere between passion and religion," he said.

"Hopefully if we perform well and get that bit of luck, it can almost be like the start of our journey.”

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