Sunderland guaranteed a finish atop the summit of their group and a place in the next round with their victory over Morecambe in the EFL Trophy tonight.
A rather uninspiring ninety minutes looked destined for the Lads’ second consecutive shootout in the competition, but a late winner from League One’s very own top scorer ensured that we were spared such a procedure.
This evening’s encounter got off to a rather uneventful start as neither team looked particularly incisive or clinical on the ball. The first shot of the game eventually fell to Morecambe, but was knocked wide of the mark from outside the box and hardly troubled Robbin Ruiter.
The home side had a much better opportunity only minutes later though when Jason Oswell nodded a goal-bound ball from a corner, but Luke O’Nien was on hand to clear the ball from the goal line with a header of his own.
Sunderland had their first chance when young Jordan Hunter sent a ball through the middle for fellow academy lad Jack Diamond who let loose an arching effort from outside the box - only for the ball to narrowly elude the outside of the far left post.
Hunter then had an effort of his own from some distance out, but the Morecambe ‘keeper was able to palm the effort away.
The sheer energy of the youngsters proved to be Sunderland’s main strength in the opening exchanges as they pressed the Morecambe back line at every opportunity. This workmanship almost rewarded Jake Hackett when the academy graduate cut in from the left and fired a shot which Mark Halstead needed to be at full stretch for in order to maintain the stalemate.
But it wouldn’t be long before our own mettle was tested. Alex Kenyon’s twenty-five yard thumper had evaded the bodies in the box and had beaten the now diving Ruiter, but a ricochet off the post denied Morecambe an opener.
Jack Diamond carved out a wonderful chance when he chased Bryan Oviedo’s nutmegged through ball and weaved his way through the Shrimpers’ defence, but when it was only the goalkeeper to separate him from the opener, he lacked that penultimate strike and instead aimed straight at Halstead.
The second half was a drab affair for the most part; Josh Maja tried to amend the monotony when he slid in to meet a cross travelling through the goalmouth corridor, but he was mere moments too late and the ball passed him by.
There was seemingly no sign of a winner as normal time threatened to conclude with a stalemate, but as we’ve come to learn this season, Maja can change all that in a matter of moments. An excellent delivery swung in by Oviedo was intercepted by the advancing Maja, who timed his run perfectly on this occasion to hit the ball across the ‘keeper and into the back of the net.
And that was that. A last-gasp, last-minute winner to send Sunderland into the next round atop their group. Ha’way the Lads!
FT: Morecambe 0-1 Sunderland (Maja 90+1’)
Maja with a lovely finish! Sunderland lead 1-0 with moments to spare! pic.twitter.com/8wZel6w3kB— Roker Report (@RokerReport) November 13, 2018
Robbin Ruiter, 4/10: Didn’t do anything absurdly wrong but I don’t think I saw him catch a single corner all evening.
Jack Bainbridge, 6/10: A shaky start progressed into a very decent display from the young lad.
Alim Ozturk, 6/10: Alright. Probably the least active of the centre-back trio.
Glenn Loovens, 6/10: Should’ve done better in the opening exchanges when he let his marker escape him and saunter into the box, but otherwise he was solid and marshalled the back line well enough.
Bryan Oviedo, 7/10: Swung in his fair share of dangerous deliveries across the evening, with the penultimate one leading to our goal.
Max Power, 7/10: Seemed to have a part to play in all our midfield motions. Didn’t get sent off either, which is always a bonus.
Jake Hackett, 7/10: Quite an impressive display. Looked confident and sufficiently threatening as a component of our attacking movements.
Luke O’Nien, 4/10: Hardly saw him unless he was kicking someone’s ankles.
Jack Diamond, 6/10: Industrious and tricky, but really should’ve scored in the second half.
Jordan Hunter, 6/10: Offered plenty of energy throughout but seemed to become less effective as the game ticked on.
Josh Maja, 7/10: Struggled to get involved all game at all for the most part but hey, he nabbed the winner didn’t he?
(SUB) Brandon Taylor, 6/10: Looked lively from the get-go.
(SUB) Lee Connelly, 6/10: Same as above.
(SUB) Daniel Neil, N/A: Wasn’t on long enough to make a real impact.
Man of the Match: Jake Hackett.