Sunderland managed a 2-1 victory over relegation-threatened Bristol Rovers at the Stadium of Light, digging deep to come from one-nil down in the opening 11 minutes to win and close the gap on Portsmouth to only five points.
The gaffer made five changes to the side that lost 1-0 in the second round replay of the FA Cup to Walsall on Tuesday night, with Lee Cattermole starting his first game since injury. Also, Duncan Watmore featured on the bench for the first league game of the season, while Josh Maja started up top for the Black Cats.
Bristol Rovers knocked on the door a number of times in the opening 10 minutes and almost got their reward when Tony Craig’s darting free header went wide of the right post. It was maybe a let off for Sunderland and one that if the Black Cats give to Portsmouth next weekend, they will definitely dispose.
It wasn’t long from there until the away side shocked the hosts when Glenn Loovens mis-kick lead to Matthews having to clear the ball, but only to Alex Rodman. He was composed and tucked the ball into the right-hand post, leaving Sunderland shocked.
From there, they only looked to be one victor and that was Sunderland. It would have been no surprise to me or any Sunderland fans if they had ran away with this one. Maja had one of the first chances when his header flew over the top of the crossbar. Then, Cattermole was underestimated as he was given a lot of space inside the penalty area. He was marginally unlucky that his shot hit off the top of the woodwork.
Finally, Sunderland’s goal came after McGeady’s shot was ushered away by the goalkeeper, but Adam Matthews, an unlikely source, nodded the ball into the back of an empty Bristol Rovers net. We were back level just before the interval, but I thought that the half time whistle came at a wrong time as we were beginning to look for a goal that would put us in front.
That didn’t matter though as Josh Maja showed his spell-binding magic to convert an opportunity when he had three Bristol Rovers players surrounding him in the penalty area and no support ahead of him. This just shows how much he would mean to us if we managed to keep hold of him in the January transfer window.
Max Power is known to score from distance and nearly did, when his shot from around 30-yards out rocketed off the crossbar yet again.
The amount of chances we had, we shouldn’t have been relying on the crossbar to save us late on in the match when Payne’s sliding shot battered the upright - luckily, we managed to get the ball cleared and the match ended Sunderland AFC 2-1 Bristol Rovers.
Next up, we face the toughest task of the season so far with an around 350 mile journey to league leaders, Portsmouth, where we will need to be quick out of the blocks if we would like to take anything out of the game.
As Portsmouth are on a two match winless run, hopefully we can catch them at the right time and take all three points.