The 2019 Checkatrade Trophy Final is upon us, with Portsmouth and Sunderland preparing for what promises to be a match to remember.
SETTING THE SCENE
Wembley Stadium awaits. Glory awaits.
Portsmouth and Sunderland will contest this year's highly anticipated Checkatrade Trophy Final on Sunday 31 March (kick-off 2:30pm), with both sides vying to win the competition for the first time. This year's Final is also set to attract the biggest attendance in EFL Trophy history and will therefore likely be one of the best-attended games in Europe across the weekend, with 85,000 fans expected to get behind the teams at our National Stadium. The victor will become just the second club to have won both the English top-flight and the EFL Trophy, with Wolverhampton Wanderers the only side to have done so to date.
This year's finalists have, of course, impressed in the Checkatrade Trophy in 2018/19, with Portsmouth seeing off the likes of Tottenham Hotspur Under-21s, Arsenal Under-21s, Peterborough United and Bury respectively. Sunderland, meanwhile, have conceded just once in the competition so far this season, and saw off Bristol Rovers to book their place under the arch.
Both sides head into the Final on the back of victories, but scores alone don't tell the whole story. Just a place and a point separate the teams in Sky Bet League One, with both still in the hunt for automatic promotion. The league battle adds another layer of intrigue to an already exciting match-up, and while both seem assured of at least a Play-Off spot, they'll be hoping victory at Wembley can serve as a timely boost to their hopes of reaching the Sky Bet Championship automatically.
In Brett Pitman and Will Grigg, the two sides have experienced strikers in their ranks, capable of producing a match-winning moment. Pitman is a key figure for Pompey and recent made his return from injury, while January signing Grigg has found his feet at Sunderland and played an important part in helping fire them to the Final. In Pitman's absence, Gareth Evans took on the captain's armband - he's Portsmouth's top scorer in the Checkatrade Trophy this season, scoring three goals from just four shots on target. In contrast, Sunderland have had the highest number of different goalscorers in this year's competition with 11.
Sunday's match will be the 104th meeting between Portsmouth and Sunderland, and just the second since a 1-1 draw in the Premier League in 2010, a year in which the former reached the FA Cup Final.
Portsmouth are unbeaten in their last seven meetings with Sunderland in all competitions, winning five and drawing two, including a 3-1 victory in a league meeting at Fratton Park earlier this season. In cup competition, though, Sunderland have lost only one of their last four games against Pompey. Victory for the Black Cats here would be their first in a competitive game at Wembley since 1973.
Overall, there's hardly anything to choose between the sides, which is a running theme ahead of Sunday's Final. There have been 33 Portsmouth wins, 37 Sunderland wins and 33 draws in this fixture to date. Who will come out on top?
FOLLOW THE FINAL
The 2019 Checkatrade Trophy Final will be shown live on Sky Sports. Live build-up and updates from the game will also be provided via @CheckatradeTrpy on Twitter and 'The EFL' on Facebook.
Those heading to Wembley can read a host of exclusive interviews and features, including those with the likes of former Pompey boss Harry Redknapp and Sunderland legend Kevin Ball, in the official matchday programme.
THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Dean Whitestone has been named as the referee for this year's Final. Whitestone will be assisted by Nik Barnard and Richard Wild on the day, while Kevin Johnson will be on Fourth Official duty, with Rob Smith acting as Reserve Assistant Referee.
With over 14 years of experience as a match official in the EFL, Whitestone is approaching his 400th league game as a referee. He also has previous experience in the competition, having been the Fourth Official during Coventry City's 2017 triumph at Wembley against Oxford United.
The full line-up is as follows:
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Assistant Referees: Nik Barnard and Richard Wild
Fourth Official: Kevin Johnson
Reserve Assistant Referee: Rob Smith