A late Daryl Murphy goal was enough to seal three points for Nottingham Forest and condemn Sunderland to a fourth consecutive league defeat.
In a game that was low on quality for the most part, Ty Browning’s error ultimately presented Forest with a rare clear-cut chance – one that Murphy gobbled up clinically to send the Midlanders back down the M1 with all three points.
New Sunderland signings Callum McManaman and Jonny Williams offered plenty of encouragement in just their second appearances at the Stadium of Light, whilst Lewis Grabban was forced off injured in the first half.
The result leaves Sunderland languishing just one point above the relegation zone in 20th position, whilst Mark Warburton’s men climb to 8th.
Sunderland XI: Robbin Ruiter, Adam Matthews, Tyias Browning, Marc Wilson, Bryan Oviedo, Lee Cattermole, Didier Ndong, George Honeyman, Callum McManaman, Jonny Williams, Lewis Grabban
Subs: Jason Steele, Jack Rodwell, James Vaughan (for Grabban 37), Darron Gibson, Donald Love, Billy Jones (for Cattermole 90), Lynden Gooch (for McManaman 72)
Nottingham Forest XI: Jordan Smith, Tendayi Darikwa, Matt Mills, Armand Traore, Ben Osborn, Liam Bridcutt, Kieran Dowell, Andreas Bouchalakis, Joe Worrall, Ben Brereton, Daryl Murphy
Subs: Stephen Henderson, Eric Lichaj, Barrie McKay (for Bouchalakis 63), Danny Fox, Zach Clough (for Dowell 70), Mustapha Carayol, Jason Cummings (for Brereton 80)
Both sides started the match in cagey fashion, with Sunderland just about shading the early stages. Callum McManaman was busy on his full debut from the off, and had the game’s first real moment of quality when he escaped the attentions of Armand Traore on the right flank. The former Wigan man fizzed a dangerous ball across the Forest box, but England U20 captain Joe Worrall dealt with it well.
It wasn’t too long before McManaman was in the thick of things again. Some great work by Jonny Williams saw Palace loanee to lay the ball on a plate for McManaman, but as the goal beckoned another great piece of defending from Worrall - this time in the form of a goal-saving block - denied him.
Neither side threatened again until the half hour mark. Forest’s first clear sight of goal arrived when an incisive pass from Ben Osborn found Andreas Bouchalakis in space on the edge of the area, but the Greek midfielder’s first touch let him down and allowed Ty Browning to clear.
McManaman was again at the heart of it as Sunderland threatened five minutes from half time. His willingness to run at Traore paid off again as he beat his opposite number before delivering another dangerous cross. The ball fell to George Honeyman, who became the latest to be foiled by the imposing figure of Joe Worrall as he got a shot away.
Half Time: Sunderland 0–0 Nottm Forest
That man McManaman was once again at the forefront of the action early in the second half. Some good pressure from Sunderland saw the ball played into him in the box, and a superb first touch was enough to escape the clutches of Matt Mills. As he bore down on goal, he could only scuff his shot and watch the best chance of the match trickle into the body of ‘keeper Jordan Smith.
The game became more open as both sides looked to break the deadlock, but it wasn’t until the 80th minute that it was seriously threatened again. The impressive Jonny Williams must have thought he’d opened the scoring when he unleashed a rasping 20-yard drive, but the ball screamed just wide of the post and a well beaten Smith.
In a game where quality was at a premium, it was always likely to be an individual error rather than a flash of brilliance that decided the game. Unfortunately for Ty Browning, his desperately misguided pass was well behind Adam Matthews, and Forest sub Barrie McKay was quickly in behind the Sunderland defence. He played the ball into former Sunderland man Daryl Murphy, who showed great strength to hold off Browning and fire the ball across Robbin Ruiter and into the corner.
Boos rang around the Stadium of Light as the final whistle blew on a game low in quality.
Full Time: Sunderland 0–1 Nottm Forest
Robbin Ruiter: 6/10 – Faultless for the goal and not a great deal else for him to do. Distribution remains a concern.
Adam Matthews: 6/10 – Solid enough if unspectacular.
Ty Browning: 4/10 – A steady enough performance until the howler that ultimately decided the game. Caught out positionally a couple of times, but his one major lapse in concentration cost us a point.
Marc Wilson: 6/10 – Again, unspectacular. Our back four will have plenty of busier days, in all honesty.
Bryan Oviedo: 7/10 – Great to see him back. Looked comfortable performing his defensive duties and much more astute when reading the game than Galloway.
Didier Ndong: 6/10 –The game was a battle of attrition in the middle of the park for large parts, thus negating Ndong’s pressing game.
Lee Cattermole: 7/10 – Very good in the first half, dominating the midfield and breaking up play with regularity.
Callum McManaman: 8/10 – Excellent outing on his full debut. Constantly troubled Traore but fluffed his side’s biggest chance.
Jonny Williams: 8/10 – Very promising from Williams, too. Always busy and consistently showed quality on the ball. If Sunderland were to score tonight, either himself or McManaman would have been heavily involved.
George Honeyman: 5/10 – Struggled to get into the game, and rarely did.
Lewis Grabban: 6/10 – Looked reasonably sharp until his evening was cut short by injury. It’s vital from a Sunderland perspective that it’s not one that will keep him on the sidelines.
James Vaughan (sub): 5/10 – Isolated up top, and his movement is nowhere near as effective as that of the man he replaced.
Lynden Gooch (sub): 5/10 – Worked hard but lacked the incisiveness of McManaman.
Billy Jones (sub): N/A – Only on the pitch for a minute or two.
Man of the Match: Jonny Williams. A close call between him and McManaman, but Williams just about gets the nod.