IT has been a miserable few seasons at Sunderland, but there is finally a sense that the club has bottomed out.

So while Sunday’s Wembley appearance might only come in the final of the Checkatrade Trophy, Jack Baldwin is determined to turn the next seven days into a major celebration.

The League One promotion picture became even more difficult on Saturday, with Luton Town, Barnsley and Portsmouth all winning, but while restoring Sunderland to the Championship remains the season’s overriding priority, there is a shared determination amongst the Black Cats squad to ensure this week’s Wembley build-up is cherished.

You do not get many chances to play at the national stadium, especially if you are plying your trade in League One, and as Sunderland supporters know only too well, you do not get many opportunities to support your side at Wembley either.

The Checkatrade Trophy might not have the kudos of the FA Cup or League Cup, but it offers Sunderland an opportunity to conclusively draw a line under the suffering of the last few years. As a result, the excitement ahead of this weekend’s final is easy to gauge.

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“Whatever competition it is, to say you have played in a crowd that big at Wembley will be amazing,” said Baldwin. “Hopefully, we will win, then it is going to be a really special occasion, especially when you think this club has had a bad couple of seasons.

“It should be a great occasion, and one people here might not have had for a while. It’s a final, and a chance to go there to try to celebrate.”

The sense of occasion will be enhanced by the presence of Portsmouth as Sunderland’s opponents, with the two clubs having sold out their allocation of tickets for the final.

The attendance will be well over 80,000, and is likely to be a record for the Football League Trophy in its variety of guises. It is also set to beat the crowd of 81,775 that was at Wembley to watch this season’s Carabao Cup final between Manchester City and Chelsea.

If he is selected, it will be the biggest crowd Baldwin has ever played in front of, and while the former Hartlepool United defender played in the play-offs with Peterborough, he readily admits it will be the high point of his footballing life.

“I’ve not had that many huge games,” said Baldwin. “In my first season at Peterborough, we got to the play-off semi-finals. We came off the wrong side of those. I felt like I did well in those, and they’re probably the biggest, so it would be nice to come off the winning side this time.

“We had the Boxing Day crowd here (with Sunderland), and that’s probably the biggest I’ve played in front of, but it will be double that at Wembley. I would like to think we have a squad of players who can rise to the occasion.”

Baldwin is one of a number of players who will be sweating on their place in both the starting line-up and matchday squad of 18 this week.

Sunderland return to league action when they travel to Accrington Stanley a week on Wednesday, and with the fixture list crammed to bursting point in the final month of the season, Jack Ross will have to be mindful of the need to keep his players fit and sharp.

That said, though, no one will want to miss out on playing at Wembley, and having returned to the starting line-up in place of Jimmy Dunne in Sunderland’s most recent outing against Walsall, Baldwin is hoping he has done enough to earn a starting spot on Sunday.

“The manager will field what he feels is his strongest team in the cup final,” he said. “I would like to think I have given him positive vibes from me. When we’re on the training ground, it’s a blank canvas.

“It has been a tough couple of league games conditions wise, and the strength and depth we have at the club in a number of positions - five centre-backs for example – means it is an even more competitive place than it was at the start of the season. You just have to keep going, work hard and hope to start. In the tough conditions, I feel I’ve done well.”

Sunderland dropped to fourth position in the table on Saturday, with a raft of results going against them. They are five points adrift of second-placed Barnsley, with two games in hand, and have now fallen a point behind third-placed Portsmouth, who have also played two games more than them.

They could drop even further behind this weekend, with leaders Luton Town travelling to Bristol Rovers and Barnsley hosting Coventry City.