LEE JOHNSON is looking forward to having ‘the whole of Sunderland behind him’ as he prepares to take his Sunderland side to Wembley in the final of the Papa John’s Trophy next month.

The Black Cats will face Tranmere Rovers on Sunday, March 14 as they attempt to improve on a dreadful Wembley record that has seen a succession of Sunderland sides lose seven matches in a row at the home of English football since 1973’s unforgettable FA Cup success over Leeds United.

Last night’s semi-final success came in dramatic fashion, with Grant Leadbitter’s successful spot-kick securing a 5-3 penalty shoot-out win after Charlie Wyke’s header had earned a 1-1 draw in 90 minutes.

The massive disappointment for all involved is that it looks extremely unlikely that supporters will be able to attend next month’s final, but Johnson knows just how much winning a piece of silverware would mean to Sunderland’s long-suffering fans.

“It’s great that the players get that reward at the end of it and the chance to go to Wembley for a really big occasion,” said Johnson, whose only previous experience of an EFL Trophy final was an unusual one as he had already left Barnsley by the time they beat Oxford United at Wembley. “Unfortunately, it’ll be without the fans, but we know we’ll have the whole of Sunderland and its surrounding areas behind us in spirit.

“I feel for them and for us because it’s nothing without them. I suppose that’s a frustration, but if we’ve given everybody a lift today then we’re more than happy with that, and people will be able to enjoy their day tomorrow knowing that we’ve got a trip to Wembley.”

While the Papa John’s Trophy might not be the most prestigious competition in English football, Sunderland’s trip to Wembley for the 2019 final, when they lost to Portsmouth on penalties, is fondly remembered as a cherished moment in the club’s recent history.

Next month’s return visit will be even more special if it results in a trophy success, with Johnson hoping his side’s Trophy experiences can spark similar success in the league.

“It can be a boost,” he said. “It can make people believe and see that we have a team that will fight, and we have got that. We know the last three or four years has been negative, but hopefully we will have the resurrection and the rise going forward.”

Last night’s game was a closely-fought affair, with Wyke’s header cancelling out Anthony Scully’s opener for Lincoln, and all five of Sunderland’s penalty takers proving successful.

“It was never going to be the same as Saturday (when Sunderland beat Doncaster 4-1),” said Johnson.

“You look at who we were playing, there was a place at Wembley at stake and some anxiety comes with that – although I don’t think that either side really showed that to be fair."