Salford City finally have the chance to compete for the 2020 Papa John’s Trophy when they come up against Portsmouth at Wembley on Saturday (KO 15:00).
It’s a first ever EFL Final for The Ammies, delayed from last season due to the pandemic, but despite hope for the game being played in front of fans it is taking place behind closed doors.
The supporters will be a notable absence, with over 60,000 tickets sold for the original final last year, but Richie Wellens says that the players can still enjoy the day, and maintains it’s perhaps as important as ever to bring something back.
“It’s a proud moment for the Club and the players will embrace playing at such a stadium like Wembley but I think it’s more for the profile of the club.
“Wembley is one of them where you can feel the history, such a huge stadium and fantastic place to be, it has an aura about it so whether it’s in front of a full house or its empty, the players can be very proud that they’ve got there, embrace it and try and win the game.
“Even though you want the players to go and enjoy it, enjoy the game, you can only enjoy it if you win the game.”
Salford head to the capital in the midst of an intense run of fixtures in Sky Bet League Two, with just one win in six. However The Ammies have been dominant in each game without quite finding the final touch, and the Gaffer feels that facing a higher league opponent in a different competition might provide some respite from the pressures of chasing promotion.
“We get a mental break now from the league, I’m hoping it freshens us up and we can go into the game with a lot of confidence because our performances have been good recently, and then it can just freshen us up for Colchester on Tuesday especially if we can win the game.”
Having played for other clubs in the 2020-21 competition, loanees Di’Shon Bernard, Paul Coutts, Robbie Gotts and Tom James are all ineligible, as is George Boyd. Darron Gibson is still recovering from his injury at Port Vale in October 2020.
Also gunning for promotion this season are Portsmouth as they bid to return to The Championship for the first time since 2011-12.
It’s almost unfathomable that a decade ago Pompey had just been relegated from a seven-year stint in the Premier League, which included two FA Cup Finals, and it’s not been an easy road back. They dropped straight through League One into the fourth tier and only at the fourth attempt were promoted back to the third tier, since when they have finished eighth, fourth and fifth.
The last two seasons have been play-off semi-final heartbreak for Pompey, but they are the current holders of the Papa John’s Trophy having beaten Sunderland in 2018-19. Ironically if they won they could go from being holders for nearly two years, to holders for 24 hours with the 2020-21 Final between Sunderland and Tranmere Rovers being played on Sunday.
However a bit like The Ammies, Pompey aren’t heading to North London in scintillating form and have one win in their last seven. Defeat against Sunderland on Tuesday night was their third in a row; they haven’t lose four in a row since the early days of Kenny Jackett’s tenure in 2017.
On our opponents, the Gaffer added:
“We’re playing against a fantastic club in Portsmouth who have a rich history, our history is trying to catch up with clubs like that so if we can continue with Finals at Wembley and trophies then it’ll be quicker to raise that profile.”
ROAD TO WEMBLEY
Salford qualified from the group as Champions after 2-0 wins against Aston Villa Under-21s and Tranmere Rovers. Bury would have also been in our group but didn’t compete after their expulsion from the Football League.
Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Under-21s and Port Vale were beaten in the Second and Third Rounds, before The Ammies came from behind to beat Accrington Stanley 2-1 in the Quarter-Final. That would be the only goal we conceded in the run after drawing 0-0 at Newport County and progressing to the Final with a 5-6 win on penalties.
Portsmouth won their group games against Crawley Town and Norwich City Under-21s, and beat Oxford United on penalties to progress to the knock-out stages. There they beat League Two opponents Northampton Town, Walsall and Scunthorpe United to set up a semi-final against Exeter City.
The Grecians took the lead in the 79th minute at a Fratton Park with Marcus Harness equalising in the 86th. An own goal in the last minute of normal time restored the visitors’ lead but Cameron McGeehan levelled things again in the first minute of added time with John Marquis notching a winner in the sixth.
HOW TO FOLLOW
The game will be live on Sky Sports Football, channel 403, with coverage beginning from 14:30. If you don’t have a Sky subscription, NOW TV offer a day pass for £9.98 which will give you access to selected Sky Sports channels including Sky Sports Football for 24 hours. Head over to NOW TV to see what passes they have available and read the T&Cs.
Alternatively there will be exclusive, full live commentary on TalkSPORT, and we will have updates on social media.
There will be no live stream on the club’s platform and no club commentary for this game.