IF a week is a long time in football, a fortnight should be enough to give Sunderland more to think about – even though everyone connected with the club want to savour it.

The Black Cats are heading to Wembley. Around 40,000 fans will visit the national football stadium a week on Sunday in the hope of seeing the men in red and white celebrate success in the Checkatrade Trophy.

The occasion should be something to cherish, and every member of Sunderland’s squad will be looking forward to it with excitement, and intent to do well against Portsmouth.

And so they should, after a number of years of frustration and disappointment at the Stadium of Light, this is shaping up to be the year to remember. There is every chance that Sunderland’s first year in League One will end in a cup and promotion double.

By the time Sunderland leave Wembley, as winners or losers, they will have a greater understanding of where they are in the race for the Championship. Sunderland are already two points behind second-placed Barnsley and are five adrift of leaders Luton Town, and have a game in hand on both.

Due to international call-ups and reaching the Checkatrade Trophy, both Barnsley and Luton will have played another two matches in League One before Sunderland take on Accrington on April 2 to claw back the first of those extra matches.

Promotion, courtesy of Saturday’s latest home win over relegation-threatened Walsall, is in Sunderland’s hands. It will still be that way when they head to Accrington, even if Barnsley have secured an eight-point advantage over their North-East rivals to go up.

Rather than worry themselves with that prospect, Sunderland are looking on the situation with excitement and hope. Defeating Walsall has left Jack Ross and his playing staff with the satisfaction required to go and embrace the break and an appearance at Wembley.

Jack Baldwin, the Sunderland defender, said: “It was important for us because we don’t have a league game for a couple of weeks, so it was important to keep ourselves in a good position. It wasn’t the prettiest of games but the main thing is we won.

“The break was mentioned beforehand, there wasn’t a massive thing made of it, but we knew we had to win because other teams will be playing while we are not. We needed to keep ourselves in a good position.

“We will have a few games in hand and if we win those then we will be in a really good position, and we know that.

“We have a break from the league next weekend, then back to work on the Wednesday and we can really enjoy it the build up, enjoy Wembley. After that we will have to forget about it pretty quickly because it is back to the league.

“The two weeks would have felt like a month had we lost to Walsall. From a psychological point of view, it was important we got those three points. We have got ourselves into a position where we wanted as we head into these few weeks.”

A fortnight without League One football means, Sunderland will have a more hectic run-in than any of their rivals. The rearranged trip to Accrington will be the first of nine remaining matches in just a month.

That sort of schedule will require Sunderland to use the squad, and Ross knows that. It has been so far so good, particularly after returning to winning ways against Walsall when things could easily have turned sour.

The Saddlers, who dropped into the relegation zone after losing at the Stadium of Light, posed plenty of threat to Sunderland and might have scored more than the one early goal on other days. Winger Zeli Ismail and striker Josh Gordon, particularly, gave the home side enough to think about.

It was Gordon who gave Walsall the lead in the fourth minute. Tom Flanagan, back in the side after recovering from concussion, started slowly and conceded the free-kick which the opener arrived from.

The impressive George Dobson in midfield floated the free-kick into the penalty area where Gordon managed to wriggle free of his marker to flick a finish inside Jon McLaughlin’s left hand corner. Once again, like so often this season, Sunderland had fallen behind.

But Sunderland are in the thick of the promotion picture because of the character they have shown to respond. Even if, by and large, they have not been hugely impressive this season, they have tended to deliver results and they did it again.

There were a few half chances for the hosts to level things up, with Ismail and Gordon doing their best at the other end to cause problems and extend the lead. In the end Sunderland’s surprise scoring talent Lee Cattermole levelled things up in the 32nd minute.

Cattermole, with his sixth goal of the season and third in six matches, found himself unmarked when he chested down and volleyed on goal after Grant Leadbitter’s corner had not been dealt with. Goalkeeper Liam Roberts did his best to stop it, but only helped it squirm inside his near post.

Before then Sunderland went closest with two efforts from Lewis Morgan, one of two changes to the team that drew at Barnsley in midweek, and then after that equaliser there were further opportunities to score too.

Before Will Grigg eventually hit the winner with 19 minutes remaining he had already been denied by Roberts. The goalkeeper managed to deny him with a strong stop when another of Leadbitter’s dead balls dropped to the striker at the back post when a gust of wind took it beyond the defender.

There wer also a couple of Leadbitter efforts of his own, one saved and one that flew over, as Sunderland pushed for that important second. It arrived, seconds after Charlie Wyke had been introduced from the bench.

Wyke has not had the most straight forward of campaigns since leaving Bradford City in a £1m deal last summer. However, even if it was only the simplest of touches, he laid on the winner for Grigg. After Wyke had touched the ball, Grigg took over and successfully slotted a lovely finish inside Roberts’ bottom left hand corner from 20 yards.

Sunderland didn’t create the sort of chances after that to put the game to bed and Walsall kept plugging away. They had chances too, but found the Sunderland defence in no mood to concede.