Portsmouth’s Oliver Hawkins sinks Sunderland to seal Checkatrade Trophy | Football
As if Portsmouth supporters had not suffered enough in recent years, they were put through the torment of a penalty shootout before they were crowned Checkatrade Trophy champions, with Oliver Hawkins sweeping home the winning spot-kick in front of baying sea of supporters. Sunderland may have painted Trafalgar Square red and white but Portsmouth left this stadium a shade of blue.
Jack Ross’s side took a seesawing game to penalties after Aiden McGeady angled home his second goal with a minute of extra time left on the clock, but Lee Cattermole’s miss from 12 yards ultimately proved costly. Portsmouth will hope this is just the start of a successful season, while Sunderland’s immediate focus will return to the league campaign after painfully falling short.
Sunderland dominated the first half, striking through McGeady, while Portsmouth appeared to suffer a bout of stage fright – across Europe this weekend, only Barcelona’s Camp Nou attracted a bigger crowd than the 85,021 in attendance here. At times this resembled a singing contest, both sets of supporters battling to outdo one another, a curious case of who could bellow the loudest. But Portsmouth rallied, eventually breaking Sunderland’s stranglehold when Nathan Thompson headed an equaliser before a preposterous finish ensued in extra time. Jamal Lowe thought he had earned victory after superbly bamboozling Jack Baldwin, only for McGeady to pop up again and force this tie to penalties.
The noise emanating from this sold-out arena said otherwise but this is a competition that has been derided in some quarters, criticised for allowing 16 Category One academies to experiment in a 64-team tournament. Sunderland overcame Newcastle United and Manchester City’s Under-21s en route to Wembley, while one of the seven hurdles standing in Portsmouth’s passage was an Arsenal B team. Away from the incessant chiming Portsmouth bell or the constant hum of nervous excitement, a measure of the interest in this game came from an unlikely source: Thomas Meunier, the Paris Saint-Germain defender, tweeted a request not for a live stream of the top-flight game involving his Belgium teammate Eden Hazard but this occasion between teams occupying the third and fourth places in League One.
Sunderland deservedly took the lead seven minutes before the interval, with Portsmouth wilting after failing to heed several warnings. George Honeyman, the Sunderland skipper, was ubiquitous in midfield, running rings around Tom Naylor and Ben Close, who was among the thousands of supporters when Portsmouth were victorious here in the 2008 FA Cup final. It was in the middle of the park where Sunderland seized control, with Cattermole dictating proceedings alongside Grand Leadbitter, allowing Lewis Morgan and McGeady to cause havoc dancing in off the flanks. Craig MacGillivray had to be alert to deny a sweetly struck Morgan volley before Thompson fouled McGeady on the edge of the box, with the playmaker dusting himself down before stepping up to dispatch his free-kick beyond the Portsmouth goalkeeper via the right shoulder of Matt Clarke in the Portsmouth wall.
Ronan Curtis was tamed on his return from a freak injury – he had required plastic surgery after trapping his finger in his front door – while Lowe, who grew up in nearby Harrow, did not begin to stretch his legs until around the hour mark. It was Lowe’s clever knockdown that fed Brett Pitman, who unleashed a stinging volley against a post. As Pompey began to click through the gears, Cattermole and Leadbitter urged calm. But Sunderland struggled to survive the onslaught. First, Lowe failed to apply the finish after a neat give-and-go with Pitman, before the substitute Gareth Evans, who livened up Pompey, lashed wide.
Eventually, though, they found a reward when Thompson caught Reece James cold to head in at the back post and take the game into a predictably cagey period of extra time. But with penalties looming, a frenetic finish ensued. Anton Walkes, the Portsmouth substitute, forced Jon McLaughlin into an instinctive save before Lowe went one better, effortlessly lifting the ball over the Sunderland goalkeeper and into the net.
But that was just the start of a wild crescendo with McGeady soon squeezing home, Clarke’s outstretched legs helping the ball in. But in the end, a perfect set of Portsmouth penalties were the difference in a grandstand finish.