Why Sunderland have a ‘huge advantage’ over Portsmouth at Wembley - according to a sports psychology expert
That’s according to respected sports psychologist Graeme Foreman, who believes that the Black Cats will be in a better mental shape to deal with the expectations surrounding the showpiece final.
Foreman, whose previous clients include the FA, England Netball and Sunderland themselves, insists that Jack Ross’ side will be well-equipped to deal with the big occasion that surrounds the final.
That’s because Sunderland’s large home gates - which are almost double that of Pompey’s - mean they are used to performing in front of large crowds.
So too are a number of the first team squad, with Premier League and international experience meaning they are confident and comfortable when it comes to bumper crowds.
Indeed, six of the current squad have even played at the national stadium in the past - and that could give the Wearsiders a ‘huge advantage’ over their opponents when they take to the field in front of over 80,000 spectators on Sunday.
“It’s a big occasion, but everyone in League One has had a big occasion when they’ve come to the Stadium of Light and played in front of 30,000 or 40,000 fans,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Echo.
“For Sunderland, that’s a huge advantage because they’re used to that.
“It’s a squad which is built around a lot of experience in terms of being in front of big crowds and in big games.
“You can mention some of the players, in terms of Matthews and McGeady, who have all played at big levels and internationally.
“They just have to stick to their processes, stick to their routine and enjoy the moment.”
Being able to enjoy the moment is something that Foreman believes could be key come the final, knowing full well just how much stress and anxiety can affect performance levels.
Some anxiety will be natural when the players take to the field ahead of the 2:30pm kick-off on Sunday - but how can Sunderland’s squad combat the pressures that may come with a Wembley final?
Foreman believes that showing faith in Ross’ methods and tactics - which have brought the club this far - can help the Black Cats
“When players play in a relaxed manner, they tend to perform better,” he added.
“In stress and anxiety states, there’s a 30% swing that individuals and teams can have in performance levels. So it’s about how teams deal with that.
“Players need to understand that fear might be there, but focus on enjoying the atmosphere and moment.
“Living in the moment is one of those phrases that we use quite regularly, and time is a big issue in psychology.
“We can bring baggage from the past into moments like these, and we can also carry baggage forward into the future in terms of anxiety and pressure.
“It’s about enjoying that moment, being relaxed and realising that Jack Ross has got the team set-up and that the tactics are right for the team.
“If they follow the processes on the day, they can win at Wembley.”