On a cold, blustery Wearside afternoon Jack Ross’ side came from behind to bag a decisive win against managerless Bristol Rovers.
Goals from Adam Matthews and the clinical Josh Maja ensured three points as we enter into the congested festive fixture list. The game was a scrappy affair, if truth be told, but fans will forgive Ross’ men who were much improved after the break.
Sunderland forced the first moment of danger in the opening minutes as a low drive into the area from stand-in left-back Bryan Oviedo forced a fairly comfortable save from the Rovers stopper. Bristol Rovers, however, found the first clear-cut chance as a dangerous delivery from a free-kick saw the Rovers number five somehow plant his header the wrong side of the post from less that ten yards out.
They soon found the opener moments later, though. Poor defending from the whole defensive unit allowed Rodman to tuck away with consummate ease - Sunderland behind after ten minutes.
Five minutes later, and Sunderland had a great chance to equalize; however, Josh Maja was unable to keep onside as his header looped over the bar after good work from Gooch, McGeady and Power.
Lee Cattermole clashed a chance against the opposition crossbar after good work down the left flank. Then Josh Maja came close several minutes later as he flashed a left-footed shot just past the far post; Lynden Gooch soon followed as he fired over the bar after a good pull-back from Oviedo.
Sunderland did find the equalizer just before the end of the half, though. Great play from Cattermole, Honeyman, and Gooch found McGeady on the edge of the Rovers’ area. The Irishman jinked his way into the box where his shot was parried away, but only as far as Adam Matthews who tucked in a header at the far post to bring things level.
Half-time: Sunderland 1-1 Bristol Rovers
Jack Ross stuck with the same side that ended the first-half, and that decision paid off almost immediately. Sunderland started with a renewed sense of vigour, and within the first five minutes of the half, Josh Maja hammered an effort into the bottom left corner after a great driving run and through ball by Aiden McGeady.
The game then slowed down as Sunderland seemed content with moving the ball around looking for an opening. Jon McLaughlin was forced off with a niggling injury, and Josh Maja was rested as Chris Maguire was brought on.
Duncan Watmore then came on for Lynden Gooch as the Roadrunner was presented with more minutes in his return from injury. He looked lively when in possession and was unlucky not to fashion a chance after a driving run into the box was ushered out of bounds by the covering defender.
Max Power then rattled the bar with a thunderous effort, which then forced a top stop from the Bristol keeper to prevent the rebound being tucked away. Power had another bite of the cherry soon after, but his tame drive was easily gathered.
Poor defending from Matthews allowed Rovers a chance to equalize in the dying moments, the bar thankfully rescuing the Welshman’s blushes.
Full-time: Sunderland 2-1 Bristol Rovers
Jon McLaughlin, 6/10: Did his job with minimal fuss, unlucky with the goal, but solid under the high ball. Didn’t have that much to do, to be honest. Hope the injury isn’t serious.
Adam Matthews, 7/10: Got forward well and was rewarded with a goal. One dodgy moment at the end, but another good performance from the Welshman.
Glen Loovens, 5/10: Looked sluggish at times, but defended relatively well.
Jack Baldwin, 5/10: Would be higher, but Jack was really wasteful at times with the ball today. Struggled up against the powerful Rovers forward, too.
Bryan Oviedo, 6/10: A real threat down the left flank, really good delivery, too. Missing in defence occasionally.
Lee Cattermole, 6/10: Looked sluggish at times, but to be expected after a lengthy lay off. Combative in the middle, and grew into the game.
George Honeyman, 6/10: Standard Honeyman performance: boundless energy, and some nice touches on the ball.
Max Power, 6/10: Moved the ball nicely, and almost scored a screamer. Would like to see him attack through the middle a little more, but clearly under instructions to sit deeper.
Lynden Gooch, 5/10: Lots of running, but little in the way of end product today.
Aiden McGeady, 8/10: As frustrating as McGeady is, he produces moments of sheer quality. Involved in both goals, he made the difference today.
Josh Maja, 7/10: He might not be the complete forward package, but he finds us goals when we need them on a regular basis and that is irreplaceable without spending silly money.
(SUB) Chris Maguire, 6/10: Busy off the ball, but unable to really find clear opportunities to influence the game.
(SUB) Robbin Ruiter, 6/10: Touched the ball maybe twice after he came on. Pressure their forward well in the dying moments - thankfully the bar came to the rescue.
(SUB) Watmore, 6/10: Nice to see Dunc back in the side, good running and some nice hold up play; he’ll be an important player going into the second half of the season.
Man of the Match: Aiden McGeady