Why Sunderland need to take inspiration from Manchester United ahead of Checkatrade Trophy final against Portsmouth
Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes would be given a major boost by a Checkatrade Trophy final win, believes ex-striker Stephen Elliott.
The Black Cats are battling for two pieces of silverware heading into the season finale starting with the cup final against Portsmouth on Sunday.
Jack Ross indicated this week that he didn’t believe a cup win would have much bearing on the league run-in but Elliott believes it could prove the catalyst needed to secure a top two spot.
Sunderland are fourth, six points behind Barnsley in second but with three games in hand now on their rivals.
The Checkatrade Trophy is a first team competition following relegation to the third tier and Ross has taken it seriously throughout, with Pompey at Wembley the final hurdle.
And Elliott, who scored 22 goals in 81 appearances for the Black Cats between 2004-07, says a trip to Wembley would also be good experience if they did have to come back for a play-off final in May.
Elliott said: “I am sure there will be a big party one way or the other - similar to the League Cup final weekend.
“But a win in the final could help spur Sunderland on in the league too, it helps breed confidence and you get a spring in your step and the players would be full of energy.
“It would give them a lot of confidence heading into the run-in.
“I just think over the course of the next few weeks, with Sunderland’s quality, especially in an attacking sense, they will go on a little bit of a run.
“Attacking wise, Jack Ross has more options to choose from than the other teams. If they pick up injuries, Sunderland could probably cope better than others.”
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Elliott added: “The other thing is if the club did end up in the play-offs then the cup final would also have proved a good experience for them if they have to go back to Wembley.
“Hopefully they won’t have to go through the play-offs but at least they’d have played there before if they had to go down that route to get promoted.”
The Checkatrade Trophy is often frowned upon and has been heavily criticised since it was revamped with invited Under-21 sides from the top two divisions but Elliott has enjoyed the competition this season and wants Sunderland to live up to - and relish - their favourites tag.
Elliott added: “I know a few people were a bit wary of playing in this competition but to me, it was a chance to go to Wembley and lift a trophy and I’m sure the players will be excited.
“You may say ‘yeah, but it is only the Checkatrade Trophy and Sunderland were always the favourites anyway’ but I don’t see a problem with going on to win it, go and show everybody you are the best team outside the top two divisions.
“It reminds me a little bit of when Manchester United were playing in the Europa League, not many people associated them with playing in that competition.
“To be fair to Manchester United, they went and won it.
“It is a little bit like that for Sunderland, you are playing in a trophy that you have a really good chance of winning.
“This is a huge occasion for the city and the club, and for the lads. Portsmouth have a huge fanbase too, it should make for a great atmosphere.”