Sunderland set up Wembley showdown with Portsmouth after comfortable win over Bristol Rovers

Six months after their Checkatrade journey began, Sunderland have booked their place at Wembley.

By Philip Smith
Tuesday, 05 March, 2019, 21:12
Lewis Morgan helped seal Sunderland's place at Wembley

Goals from Will Grigg and Lewis Morgan sealed another impressive win at the Memorial Stadium, sending nearly 1,900 travelling supporters into delirium.

It has been a much-maligned competition that for Sunderland has served multiple purposes and presented multiple challenges.

Young and fringe players have had the chance to get minutes under their belt, against the bizarre backdrop of games against U21 sides and a punishing schedule.

Seven games later, they have been rewarded with a showpiece final at Wembley.

A chance to celebrate the first stage of the club's journey back from the brink.

With Portsmouth their opposition, it promises to be a real cup final atmosphere and a pulsating contest.

Both sides had gone with their strongest XI's, Sunderland replacing the injured duo Reece James and Lee Cattermole with the more than capable Adam Matthews and Max Power.

Sunderland started well, continuing their recent form by moving the ball quickly and fluidly through the lines.

They forced the first save of the game when Grant Leadbitter made a fine interception in midfield, moving the ball on quickly where Power found Aiden McGeady on the left.

The in-form winger cut inside and curled a shot towards the top corner, but Jack Bonham did well to turn it wide.

Tom Flanagan beat his marker to the following corner but headed over the bar.

While the Black Cats continued to see most of the ball, Rovers looked a completely different side to the one who had lost 2-0 here ten days earlier.

There they had been more direct than any side Sunderland have faced this season, but a switch to a midfield diamond has seen a change of style.

They were far more patient on the ball, showing more composure to create openings on the counter.

They came close when Ollie Clarke fired a ball across the face of goal, Flanagan just able to cut it out.

The conditions were testing, with driving rain persistent throughout the half. It almost caught Jon McLaughlin off guard, the Scot spilling a low drive from Jonson-Clarke Harris before recovering superbly to deny Stuart Sinclair on the follow-up.

With George Honeyman struggling to run off an injury, the Black Cats found themselves in a challenging game.

They were still finding it relatively easy to play up to the final third, but there they were struggling for quality.

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When it came, they put themselves ahead in a flash.

Just moments before the break, Power gathered a quick throw in from Matthews, and shaped to switch the ball out to the right flank. Instead, he played a ball inside and found Will Grigg in the box, the striker spinning away from his marker before firing a first-time effort into the bottom corner.

Within moments of the restart, they had doubled their lead.

Honeyman had not been able to carry on, replaced by Lynden Gooch.

After a good break the substitute gathered a pass from McGeady and forced a save from Bonham. Lewis Morgan was the quickest to react, taking one touch before converting.

Rovers should have halved the deficit when they won a corner soon after, Tom Lockyer heading over the bar despite finding himself completely unmarked.

The game returned to its previous rhythm, the home side a threat but the Black Cats seeing plenty of the ball in advanced areas.

They looked most likely to add a third as Gooch and McGeady repeatedly found space, but McLaughlin had to be alert deny the overlapping Tareiq Holmes-Dennis as he ran into the fox and struck a firm effort at goal.

It looked like a vital phase of the game but Sunderland managed it with real poise, taking the sting out of the game and giving Rovers little more to shout about.

The final whistle blew as the Sunderland support sang 'cheesy chips on Wembley Way'.

It may only be the Checkatrade Trophy, but a return to the national stadium is now a reality.

Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; O'Nien, Flanagan, Dunne, Matthews; Leadbitter, Power, Honeyman (Gooch, 45); Morgan (McGeouch, 84), McGeady (Watmore, 76), Grigg

Subs: Ruiter, Wyke, Baldwin, Hume

Bristol Rovers XI: Bonham; Clarke, Lockyer, Craig, Holmes-Dennis; Sercombe, Clarke (Kelly, 69), Upson, Nichols (Jakubiak, 69), Sinclair (Lines, 69), Clarke-Harris

Subs: Smith, Reilly, Matthews, Clarke

Bookings: Nichols, 38 Craig, 86

Attendance: 6,699 (1,883 away)