Losing the EFL Trophy Final was a huge disappointment for Sunderland, but one that they cannot linger over, with the more important task of league points on the line tomorrow.
In many ways, the EFL Trophy run was something of a sideshow to the main event, and if you ask any player or fan, not a single one would have taken a win on Sunday over promotion to the Championship.
It is always upsetting to lose a final, and more so when you have a hand on it one minute, and losing on penalties the next. But Grant Leadbitter has adopted the right attitude, and every Sunderland player needs to copy it.
Speaking to the Shields Gazette after the game, he said: “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.
“I won’t look back on anything. All we can think about now is Wednesday night, I will look forward to that and we all should.”
And he is exactly right.
The focus is, and has always been, getting out of League One. Forget Wembley. Forget penalty shoot-outs. Forget everything else. Winning at Accrington should have been the priority last week, and it must be the priority now.
Automatic promotion is in Sunderland’s hands now. Barnsley dropped two points on Saturday, which helped the Black Cats promotion bid, without them even playing.
Six points behind second with three games in hand, for a team that has only lost twice in the league all season, it is a task well within their capabilities.
Yes, it is always nice to have the points on the board, but it can often help focus the mind, knowing you have a target to aim for.
The one thing Sunderland must do, is turn draws into wins — both at home and away.
Points are like gold-dust at the business end of the season, and a point lost, is another team’s gain.
Which is why none of the players should have Sunday’s defeat on their minds anymore, a mindset Leadbitter has clearly adopted.
“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.
“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.”
All of Jack Ross’ players need to have the same approach. If they can channel the disappointment into motivation in the league games, then Sunday will turn out to be the best, worst feeling for both the club and fans.
Promotion will make the season a great one, but losing an EFL Trophy final does not make it a bad one.
Wednesday’s game at Accrington will say a lot about Sunderland’s players and their desire. It is up to them to show what the red and white stripes mean to them.
Were you at Wembley on Sunday? What were your feelings after the game? Had you always thought the league games were more important than Sunday’s final? Let us know below...
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