Checkatrade Trophy final analysis: Portsmouth fans’ favourite changed Sunderland clash while defence delivered masterclass
Sports writer Will Rooney picks out the key talking points from Pompey’s Checkatrade Trophy triumph over Sunderland...
While virtually everyone in the PO area was hoping Ronan Curtis would be declared fit for Wembley, Gareth Evans likely knew he would be sacrificed.
The Irishman’s swift return to fitness after severing his finger meant there was no starting spot for the fans’ favourite against Sunderland.
One of Pompey’s longest servant began on the substitutes’ bench – just like he did on his first trip to the national stadium five years earlier.
While Evans didn’t feature in Fleetwood’s play-off victory over Burton, his maiden appearance at Wembley will go down in Fratton folklore.
The midfielder must have been frustrated not to have been unable to help his team-mates when they were under the pump in the first half.
He must have felt his energy and work-rate could have diluted the Black Cats’ constant pressure.
But when he did replace Curtis in the 56th minute, his impact was awe-inspiring.
The Irishman’s display before withdrawn was slightly subdued, as he struggled to make a seriously trouble Sunderland.
Evans, in contrast, gave Pompey the fillip they so desperately needed.
He had the bit between his teeth as soon as he came on and significantly upped the Blues’ goal threat.
On numerous occasions, he burst into the box only to have his shots blocked, while he arrowed a 25-yard effort not far wide.
And when Pompey needed that bit of quality when the pressure was on, Evans provided.
He stood up a perfect cross to the back post for Nathan Thompson, who rose well to head home.
If Evans hadn’t have been introduced, there’s every chance that equaliser wouldn’t have arrived.
A DEFENSIVE MASTERCLASS
The grumblings among the blue half of Wembley at half-time were all the same.
Pompey were second best for the opening 45 minutes.
They could barely get a foot on the ball and the gap between the midfield and an isolated Omar Bogle up front continued to widen as the first half wore on.
However, the resolve the Blues displayed to repel the potent Black Cats attack was magnificent.
Only a deflected Aidan McGeady free-kick managed to beat Craig MacGillivray in the 38th minute.
And apart from a Lewis Morgan effort which the Pompey keeper thwarted, the Blacks Cats rarely troubled the Scot otherwise.
The dogged defending from the Blues meant Sunderland couldn’t truly make their pressure count.
Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess put their bodies on the line, throwing themselves at everything that came their way.
They limited £3m striker Will Grigg to barely anything.
Tom Naylor, sitting in front, also mopped up plenty of danger, while Lee Brown’s sliding challenge on Morgan down the left typified his performance.
Nathan Thompson was given a tough time by McGeady – unsurprising given the Irishman's prowess.
But the right-back bounced back after the break and gained the upper hand against the Republic of Ireland international.
TACTICAL TWEAKS WORK AGAIN
For a second successive weekend, Kenny Jackett’s tactical rejig rejuvenated Pompey.
After a slow opening half-hour at Shrewsbury, the Blues boss’ decision to switch to a 4-3-3 yielded a 2-0 victory.
And it was Jackett’s changes again which sparked his troops into life at at Wembley.
Pompey could barely get hold of the ball in the first half, with Sunderland having wave after wave of attack.
But they could only take a one-goal advantage into half-time.
Jackett didn’t make any substitutes at the interval – maybe a small surprise given he’s done so when things haven’t been working in the past.
But when the manager did make tweaks, they had a game-changing impact.
As previously mentioned, Gareth Evans’ energy and tenacity added life into the Blues down the left.
Meanwhile, Oli Hawkins’ cameo after replacing Omar Bogles also shifted the dynamic of the game.
The striker’s physicality and hold-up play caused the Black Cats rearguard all sorts of problems.
Hawkins crucially created space for the likes of Evans, Jamal Lowe and Brett Pitman to take advantage of.
The substitutes also kept their cool to score in the penalty shootout.
There have been times when some members of the Fratton faithful have criticised Jackett for his tactics this season.
But he delivered on the biggest stage on Sunday.