IT is a piece of footballing trivia. How did Lee Johnson end up leading a side to Wembley, being at the final in his shiny new suit, but having to listen to more than 40,000 people booing him as someone else walked away with a managerial winner’s medal? The answer is somewhat unusual, but it helps explain why the Sunderland boss is determined to do things differently as his side prepare to host Lincoln City in the semi-finals of the Papa John’s Trophy tonight.

February 2016, and Johnson was the manager of Barnsley as they beat Fleetwood Town on penalties in a two-legged semi-final of the same competition. The Wembley final against Oxford United did not take place until April, and in the intervening period, Johnson agreed to leave Oakwell to take charge of Bristol City.

Paul Heckingbottom replaced him as Barnsley boss, and was in the dug-out at Wembley as the Tykes claimed a 3-2 win. Johnson attended the game as a guest of Barnsley’s owners, but it is safe to say his presence did not exactly go down well with the club’s fans, who were still smarting from his hasty departure. Given his efforts over the previous 12 months, Johnson was heavily responsible for Barnsley’s success. It didn’t really feel like that, though, as he was forced to keep his head down in the royal box.

“I’ve played at Wembley, but I haven’t actually managed there,” said the Sunderland boss. “It was a strange one really. I was the manager of Barnsley before I was purchased by Bristol City. We won the semi-final at Fleetwood, and I went to the final as a guest of the owner and got booed by about 60,000 people! Thankfully, Barnsley won, so I was happy for the boys. It would be nice to get there again and do it properly this time though.”

Like Johnson, Sunderland have some unfinished business in the Trophy, having lost to Portsmouth at Wembley when the competition was sponsored by Checkatrade. Next month’s final promises to be a strange affair if, as looks inevitable, fans are prevented from attending. Nevertheless, when you have suffered as much Wembley heartbreak as Sunderland, any slight opportunity of success is not be sniffed at.

Johnson has selection problems to overcome this evening, most notably at centre-half where the absence of Jordan Willis and Tom Flanagan through injury is exacerbated by the unavailability of Dion Sanderson because he is cup-tied. With league games against Burton and Fleetwood coming up in the next seven days, there will be an understandable reluctance to take any unnecessary risks. This is a cup semi-final though, and for all that the Papa John’s Trophy might lack lustre, Johnson intends to treat it as such.

“It’s big,” he said. “I want to get a new suit and go to Wembley. It’s always a fantastic occasion and we want to get there. We want to give the fans as much of a feelgood factor as we can.”

Sunderland (probable, 4-4-2): Burge; Power, McLaughlin, Wright, O’Nien; Diamond, Leadbitter, Scowen, McGeady; O’Brien, Wyke.