Sunderland can take more than just pride from an uproariously uplifting Wembley weekend.
The Capital One Cup might have eluded Gus Poyet’s men on Sunday but it felt like a breakthrough might just have been reached on the issue, which has been troubling the Black Cats boss almost from the moment he pitched up at the Stadium of Light.
It is time to strike decisively to resolve his offensive problems and give Fabio Borini an unbroken run playing through the middle.
There can be no other way forward for a shot-shy Sunderland team which now need goals to ensure Sunday’s feel-good factor isn’t checked by flat-lining form in the Premier League and FA Cup.
It seemed perfectly obvious on Sunday – Borini is the key.
Plenty of Sunderland players have improved under Poyet’s charge but the Italy striker’s rise under the Uruguyan has been particularly impressive.
The loyalty shown towards Jozy Altidore has been admirable and debate has raged about whether the striker offers enough in his all-round game to justify selections without the cutting edge.
Unfortunately, the statistics are starting to tell their own tale on that front. Not only is Altidore bottom of the Black Cats scoring charts with just two goals from 33 appearances, but he’s also averaging less than a shot an appearance.
He has taken just 0.94 shots per game, which is in stark contrast to both Borini and Fletcher, who have outscored the American and taken more chances too: 1.21 and 1.17 per game respectively.
Altidore might have suffered for being asked to do a target man job by Poyet but at least he has always been used as a striker.
Borini, by contrast, has only been deployed up front on his own sparingly.
Most of the time he has been asked to drift in from wide areas, which is understandable given his comfort playing on the wings. Yet for 45 thrilling minutes on Sunday he looked exceedingly dangerous running on to the throughballs Sunderland’s well-drilled midfield were able to supply him with.
The first goal in Sunday’s showcase final was a case in point. Adam Johnson’s ball might have been into a dangerous area but there was still so much for Borini to do as he applied pressure to Vincent Kompany before stealing possession himself.
The finish, a low, venomous drive with the outside of his boot, confirmed he is Sunderland’s most natural finisher – and even Fletcher is included in that.
Surely the time has now arrived where Poyet’s team sheet is compiled with Borini as one of the first names on it?
The argument remains whether Sunderland can prosper against the lower-ranked teams they need to beat with just one man, but surely Borini can be utilised as part of a striking partnership too? If they can take anything else from the weekend it is a surge of goodwill for a club which 12 months ago felt disconnected from a supporter base who were not so much fed up of failing to win games, as the drift and lack of purpose.
There was no victory on Sunday but the whole week felt like it was a win for Sunderland. Poyet might only have been in the North East for three months but his comments about the importance of knockout competitions struck a chord with supporters, who can cherish the moments which made the weekend special: the triumphant march down a Wembley Way decked in red and white, the pride and good-natured celebrations in Covent Garden on Saturday night and the seething mass of elation which followed Borini’s brilliant strike in the first ten minutes.
These are not things which can necessarily be measured on a balance sheet, an area where Sunderland will know they have to improve.
Ellis Short’s largesse has largely kept them in business these past three years and the squad re-shaping in the summer was with one eye on dipping under Financial Fair Play rules.
However, the credit they have earned during this run should improve everything on Wearside – at least in the short-term.
When Bradford City marched into the final of the League Cup last season, they were a club who had flirted with relegation from the Football League in two of the previous four season.
Anecdotally, the mood had become toxic and home form had dipped to the point where stepping out on their own patch had become a wearisome chore.
Last week, the club’s chairman was talking about an atmosphere to match any in their league.
Imagine that multiplied countless times and you might be able to feel what Sunday and the build-up to the game might do to the Black Cats and the match-day atmosphere at the Stadium of Light in the coming weeks and months. It can have a transformative effect in this crucial final period of the season.