As the first few members of the Sunderland squad trailed through the Wembley mixed zone following their Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Portsmouth, the disappointment was hard to hide.
At the start of season, the cup competition which only accommodates senior sides from the third and fourth tier wouldn’t have featured high on the agenda – yet a penalty shootout loss, no matter the competition, is always tough to take.
Still the message from Jack Ross’ side after the full-time whistle was clear: Promotion from League One is the main aim. There’s no point looking back on what might have been.
“It hurts, of course it does,” said midfielder Grant Leadbitter, who was already thinking about Wednesday’s trip to Accrington Stanley.
“But we have to react on Wednesday and that is the only thought that is going through my head at the moment. Wednesday is a big game. It hurt at Wembley but that’s football.
Sunderland had opportunities to put the game beyond doubt after Aiden McGeady opened the scoring from a free-kick in the 38th minute.
But, after a dominant first half, the Black Cats lost momentum in the second, as Nathan Thompson’s header eight minutes from the end forced extra-time.
Jamal Lowe then put Pompey ahead in the 114th minute before McGeady’s equaliser took the game to penalties.
Yet it was the Blues who prevailed in the subsequent shootout – winning 5-4 on spot kicks.
“We did some terrific things in the first half,” added Leadbitter. “We played really well, and then they came out in the second half and put plenty of balls into our box.
“We wanted to win, of course we did. We were in a competition and we wanted to win it, we didn’t and that is the reality of the situation.”
Leadbitter, who was also part of the Middlesbrough side who lost at Wembley in the play-offs three years ago, won’t dwell on his disappointment though, and the main goal of winning promotion from wasn’t lost on the experienced midfielder.
“I won’t look back on anything,” added Leadbitter. “All we can think about now is Wednesday night, I will look forward to that and we all should.
“We didn’t kill the game when we could have. Let’s be clear though, we should not dwell on losing on penalties at Wembley for long and we won’t.
“We had a think about the game in the first few hours after the defeat at Wembley, we will know that we could have won it, but we didn’t. We have to move on and Wednesday night is really important for this football club.
“We have nine games to go and it is in our hands. We don’t want to lose any more football games.”
A trip to the Wham Stadium to face a relegation-threatened Accrington side will present a completely different challenge, and Leadbitter knows the side must show character to bounce back.
The midfielder also believes Sunderland have the squad to cope with a congested April fixture list – which will see Jack Ross’ side play eight times next month.
“It will be completely different to Wembley but that’s where we are as a club,” said Leadbitter. “We know that. We have to show the character within the squad that we know we have to get a result.
“We have a good all-round squad and we know what is required between now and the end of the season. We need to attack those nine games. Losing at Wembley on penalties does hurt but we have to look forward.
“When you lose a big game the best thing to do is put it right in the next game, we will have to enjoy that challenge at Accrigton Stanley. That’s what football is all about, challenges and embracing those.
“We have to make sure there is no hangover and we have the players and quality within the squad to make sure there is no hangover.
“There is still a long way to go this season, I keep saying this. But we know it is in our own hands and we have to make sure there is no hangover, it’s that simple.”