A goal in each half gave Leeds United a deserved 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light, inflicting a first defeat on Simon Grayson in the process.
Samuel Saiz’s smart finish and Stuart Dallas’ excellent header reflected the Yorkshiremen’s assured performance, whilst a faultless display from their back four kept Sunderland at bay with relative ease.
The Black Cats started the game the more energetic of the two sides, but once Leeds broke the deadlock against the run of play, they never looked like relinquishing control of the game.
The result leaves Sunderland sitting in 12th position after 4 games, whilst the win propels Leeds into the top six.
Sunderland XI: Jason Steele, Billy Jones, Lamine Kone, Tyias Browning, Brendan Galloway, George Honeyman, Didier Ndong, Lee Cattermole, Aiden McGeady, Lewis Grabban, James Vaughan
Subs: Robbin Ruiter, Adam Matthews (for Galloway 54), John O’Shea, Darron Gibson. Lynden Gooch, Wahbi Khazri (for Vaughan 54), Joel Asoro (for Cattermole 74)
Leeds XI: Felix Wiedwald, Luke Ayling, Liam Cooper, Pontus Jansson, Vurnon Anita, Eunan O’Kane, Kalvin Phillips, Pablo Hernandez, Ezgjan Alioski, Samuel Saiz, Caleb Ekuban
Subs: Rob Green, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Kemar Roofe (for Hernandez 25), Stuart Dallas (for Ekuban 61), Ronaldo Vieira, Mateusz Klich (for Saiz 80), Conor Shaughnessy
Sunderland started the better of the two sides, pressing high up the pitch and winning the ball back in dangerous areas. It almost paid off eight minutes in when the tenacious George Honeyman charged down a Vurnon Anita clearance. The ball fell kindly for James Vaughan, but Leeds centre-back Pontus Jansson made a superb last-ditch challenge to deny the former Bury man his first Sunderland goal.
Didier Ndong was dominating proceedings and governing the game from the middle of the park, and it was Sunderland again who forced the next chance. Lewis Grabban won the ball back in the middle of the park before immediately releasing Vaughan, who held the ball up well whilst Grabban made up the ground to support his strike partner. Grabban latched on to Vaughan’s return ball before cutting inside and getting a shot away, with the effort beating the ‘keeper but not Liam Cooper - the defender making a miraculous block to deflect the ball onto the bar.
Sunderland were made to pay for their profligacy immediately on the twenty-minute mark. Ezgjan Alioski, who had looked like Leeds’ biggest threat from the outset, escaped Brendan Galloway before cutting inside from the right and sliding a perfectly weighted ball into Samuel Saiz. The Spaniard took the ball in his stride and fired the ball across Jason Steele to give United the lead against the run of play.
The goal settled Leeds markedly, and just moments after the deadlock was broken, Pablo Hernandez should have made it two after Alioski and Saiz combined again only for the former Valencia and Swansea to mistime his header when the goal beckoned.
Alioski was really enjoying himself, and his movement was proving to be too much for Galloway to cope with, and it seemed only a matter of time before he was involved in another goal for his side. The Black Cats held on until the break, but not before Galloway scythed through the back of Alioski, picking up a yellow for his troubles and rubber-stamping how the half had went on the Leeds right-side.
Half Time: Sunderland 0-1 Leeds (Samuel Saiz, 21)
Leeds were the quicker out of the blocks after the restart but clear-cut chances were at a premium. Sunderland switched from 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1, matching Leeds’ formation in an effort to stifle the attacking threat of Alioski and Saiz. By the hour mark, the Wearsiders seemed to be getting a foothold back in the game with Ndong grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and leading the press.
Still, United’s resolute defence didn’t look like presenting Sunderland with a chance, and it was seventy minutes in before either team had a decent opening. Lamine Kone got himself in a bit of a tangle and gave away a free-kick right on the edge of the area, but Alioski’s strike was too close to Jason Steele who pushed it clear.
Five minutes later, the game was over. That man Alioski was too strong for Adam Matthews on the halfway line before turning defence to attack in the blink of an eye. He fed Saiz, who fizzed a cross to the back post. Substitute Stuart Dallas was on hand to plant an excellent header past Steele.
From that point on the game fizzled out, but not before Billy Jones spurned the best chance of the evening for the home side. Aiden McGeady got to the byline before delivering a teasing cross, but Jones’ first touch let him down and took the chance away from him.
Full Time: Sunderland 0-2 Leeds (Samuel Saiz, 21, Stuart Dallas 76)
Jason Steele: 5/10 – Questionable positioning for the second goal but other than that a reasonably uneventful performance from the stopper.
Billy Jones: 5/10 – Average but more than likely thrilled to be on the opposite flank to Alioski. Missed a glorious chance on 90 mins.
Lamine Kone: 7/10 – Authoritative, commanding and efficient. Game looks easy for him when he fancies.
Tyias Browning: 6/10 – Another solid enough performance from Browning.
Brendan Galloway: 3/10 – A torrid evening before he was put out of his misery and substituted not long after the break. Alioski had him on toast with a side of marmalade, jam and whatever else he wanted.
George Honeyman: 5/10 – A hard-working outing from Honeyman but unable to make enough of an impact on the game.
Didier Ndong: 7/10 – Controlled the game for large parts. Like Kone, he has the qualities to stand out like a sore thumb in the second tier.
Lee Cattermole: 5/10 – Didn’t display the same assurance as his midfield partner and looked slightly off the pace of the game.
Aiden McGeady: 6/10 – Always looks like he might make something happen but stifled for much of the game by Ayling.
Lewis Grabban: 6/10 – Worked hard and looked like Sunderland’s biggest goal threat. Missed a gilt-edged chance just before the deadlock was broken.
James Vaughan: 5/10 – Didn’t get into the game at all, and any sniff he had was quickly quashed by Cooper and Jansson.
Adam Matthews (sub): 4/10 – Didn’t get as much of a pasting as Galloway.
Wahbi Khazri (sub): 4/10 – Looks devoid of quality and motivation.
Joel Asoro (sub): 4/10 – Didn’t get into the game at all.
Man of the Match: Didier Ndong. Dominated the game in parts and looked assured. He is the crucial component if Grayson wishes to play the pressing game he started out with today.