Both the 2020 and 2021 Papa John's Trophy Finals will be played under the famous Wembley arch as part of an historic weekend, the likes of which have never been seen before.
The 2020 Final between Portsmouth and Salford City will be played on Saturday 13 March, with the 2021 edition, featuring Sunderland AFC and Tranmere Rovers, taking place 24 hours later...
Portsmouth v Salford City
Exactly one year on from the day football in England and Wales ground to a halt following the outbreak of coronavirus, Portsmouth and Salford City will meet at Wembley, vying to claim the Papa John's Trophy. This fixture, which was rescheduled as a result of the pandemic, will see Portsmouth attempt to become the first side in the competition's history to win the Trophy in consecutive seasons, while it also represents an opportunity to Salford to win it for the first time in their history - and at the first attempt.
While the opposition may be new, there’s nothing unfamiliar about Saturday's spectacular venue for Portsmouth. Winners at Wembley in this very competition in 2019, theirs is a rich history which also includes two top-flight titles and two FA Cups.
In Kenny Jackett, they have a manager who’s been there and done it, too. The 59-year-old has won the competition twice, the 2019 triumph coming 13 years after his first with Swansea City. And although Pompey would go on to fall at the Semi-Final hurdle in last season’s League One Play-Offs, this one has a familiar backdrop of promotion ambitions.
Four promotions in five seasons for Salford City is a remarkable story in its own right, but the rapid rise of the ‘Dirty Old Town’ is a tale which extends far beyond the drama of matchday. From the Northern Premier League to the EFL – and indeed the EFL Trophy - for the first time in their history, theirs is a fast-moving journey well worth keeping pace with.
A little over a decade ago, when Portsmouth were reaching the FA Cup Final, this Final would have felt a long and laborious voyage away for the Ammies, but what began as a distant dream has since become reality. Now into its 81st year, having been founded as Salford Central in 1940, the club has its sights set on glory, and is managed by a man who knows all about the EFL in Richie Wellens.
Holders against challengers, blue against red, north against south, League One against League Two. There’s a lot riding on this one!
Sunderland AFC v Tranmere Rovers
Sunday's Papa John’s Trophy Final will be a meaningful one, and features two teams who are well versed when it comes to Wembley, in Sunderland AFC and Tranmere Rovers.
That famous walk down Wembley Way has become a familiar one for this season’s Finalists, and while this one will sadly be without the loyal supporters that have helped them reach this point from afar, both Clubs will carry an undoubted sense of optimism and belief under the arch and onto the hallowed turf.
For Sunderland, the Final represents a third trip to the National Stadium in just two years. The Black Cats were at Wembley twice in 2019 - including for the Final of this very competition – and backed by tens of thousands of fans on both occasions, as Wearside descended upon Wembley. And while they’ll be hoping for a change of fortunes this time around, the ambition remains very much the same, with silverware the target at the close of play.
Lee Johnson’s side go into the game as the favourites, and having scored more goals than any other team in this season’s competition. They found the net an incredible 13 times in their opening two Group Stage games - including eight times against Aston Villa’s youngsters - setting the tone for their latest road to Wembley. They’ve enjoyed a fantastic Trophy run so far, catching the eye every step of the way, but will know the job’s far from done.
Sunderland produced a set of perfect penalties to see off Sky Bet League One promotion rivals and 2018 Trophy winners Lincoln City in the Semi-Finals, with Johnson pinpointing this match as “the start of the resurrection” for the club. Those watching on from home will be hoping it’s just that.
Tranmere are back at ‘Prenton Park South’ for the fourth time in five seasons, having secured promotion from Sky Bet League Two in dramatic fashion on their most recent visit, just 24 hours before today’s opponents Sunderland took to the pitch for a Play-Off Final of their own.
Keith Hill’s men know as well as anyone that odds and pundit predictions count for little when it comes to cup competition and are fully deserving of their place in the Final, having seen off the likes of Peterborough United and Oxford United in impressive fashion en route to Wembley.
History is on their side, too. Winners of this competition back in 1990 and runners-up the following season, they know what it takes to win the Trophy, and they’ll have the full backing of the ‘Super White Army’ again here. It was a masterful away display that got the better of an in-form Oxford in the final four for Tranmere to reach this point, the kind of team performance they will surely be looking to replicate if they are to see off Sunderland at Wembley. ‘More of the same’ will be the message in the Rovers camp.