Pompey take on their League One promotion rivals at the showpiece event at Wembley, which will attract the competition’s biggest-ever crowd since its formation back in 1983.
The Blues have sold more than 40,000 tickets for the game – their biggest Fratton faithful attendance for a game in more than 50 years.
According to a leading sports psychologist in the north east, that could play into the Black Cats’ hands given their players’ familiarity with playing in front of bigger crowds and a select few having big-match experience at Champions League and international level.
But according to Dr Melissa Day – a Reader in Qualitative Sport Psychology at the University of Chichester – other factors will also be in play, including the Blues’ 3-1 success over Jack Ross’ side back in Decemnber, Pompey boss Kenny Jackett’s own experience of the big occasions, and, of course, the fans.
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Here’s the questions we put to Dr Day and the responses she provided…
Q. Will Sunderland have an advantage, given the evidence that they do generally play in front of bigger crowds on a regular basis?
There is little doubt that playing in front of big crowds can add to the stress and anxiety felt by a team.
Gaining experience of playing in front of this type of crowd may indeed help Sunderland to feel less stress.
This is why Olympic athletes often prepare by simulating the competition environment as closely as possible before the big event.
But gaining familiarity is not the only strategy that can be used here.
Researchers have found that the most important strategy for reducing stress is the mental approach that we take.
If Portsmouth are able to see these bigger crowds as a challenge and a chance to prove themselves rather than as a threat, then this has been shown to have a positive impact on aspects such as decision-making and could even improve their physical performance.
Q. Does the fact Sunderland have several squad members with Premier League and high-level international experience provide them with an advantage? By the way, Pompey beat Sunderland 3-1 back in December.
Athletes gain confidence from demonstrating that they have more ability than their opponents, so this may give Sunderland a boost.
However, another source of confidence is what is termed ‘situational favourableness’, or feeling that breaks of the situation are in their favour.
Portsmouth’s recent 3-1 win could be key here.
While Portsmouth coaches may set up practices that boost their players’ confidence in their ability, Sunderland cannot deny their recent loss.
Q. Pompey manager Kenny Jackett has a lot more big-match experience than his opposite number Jack Ross. Can Pompey use that to their advantage?
Having this big-match experience should give Jackett a head start when it comes to preparing his players for matches such as this.
First, this may this give his players confidence in their manager’s decision-making and preparations for Sunday’s match.
Second, learning from others is crucial in sport so Jackett’s stories and experiences may be invaluable to Portsmouth’s players.
Q. How much of an affect will the outcome of Sunday's final have on either team's promotion ambitions? Sunderland sit third in the table, with Pompey fourth. Sunderland also have two games in hand.
The outcome of Sunday’s final could be crucial.
Psychologists use the term ‘psychological momentum’ to describe runs of success.
This can occur within a game (when suddenly everything seems to go right) or during a season (when a team seems untouchable).
Momentum can roll over from one match to the next, boosting the team’s confidence and even impacting on their overall performance.
If Portsmouth were to meet Sunderland in the play-offs, feeling like the momentum is on their side may give them the crucial advantage.
Q What affect can the fans, the stadium and the final itself have on the players?
In this situation preparation is key. The players arrive at Sunday’s game with full knowledge of the stadium and the pressure that playing in a final will bring.
This means that they should be mentally prepared for the game.
Undoubtedly, Jackett’s big-match experience will come into play here in preparing his players for such an event.
The unknown factor that cannot be controlled by the players is the fans.
The role of supporters should not be taken lightly, the right atmosphere at a game can pump up the team and inspire them to perform.
We often talk about home advantage but the main factor in this is the size of the home crowd – the larger the crowd the bigger the advantage.
The important thing here is that the crowd get behind the team – we expect players to perform but to really gain an advantage a good crowd needs to do the same.
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