A bumper Boxing Day crowd of 46,039 watched on as Sunderland won a scrappy game against Bradford City.
Tom Flanagan and Josh Maja returned to the starting line-up as Jack Ross’ side looked to take advantage of Portsmouth’s earlier loss against Gillingham, which they did thanks to an Aiden McGeady rebound in the first half.
Here’s how the action unfolded.
Josh Maja and Lynden Gooch fired wide in the opening ten minutes before great work from Oviedo on the left wing saw Maja with another chance on goal - his flick just scraping past the keeper’s right post, however.
Bradford struggled to cope with Sunderland’s movement and vision when the hosts were in possession - Jack Ross’ mean seemingly keen to expose Bradford’s narrow midfield via McGeady and Gooch plus the overlapping fullbacks.
Bradford did have their moments, though. A surging run from Jack Payne saw him beat two Sunderland defenders before flashing an effort wide. Sunderland responded as a Baldwin header found the keeper’s grateful clutch after good work from Gooch and McGeady on the right wing.
Sunderland found the opener minutes later as Josh Maja’s deflected effort fell from the keeper’s grasp into the path of Aiden McGeady who lashed home from six yards out. The crowd wild with excitement, eager for more.
As the half drew on, a fantastic strike from Aiden McGeady forced the Bradford keeper into a haphazard save. Sunderland in the ascendancy.
Half Time: Sunderland 1-0 Bradford City
The Stadium of Light, just as it should be... #SAFC pic.twitter.com/SmPDTGWoZJ— Oscar Chamberlain (@OscarJCMedia) December 26, 2018
After a brilliant rendition of Shipyards by The Lake Poets during the break, Bradford kicked off the second half, which was a rather boring affair.
Little of note happened - other than a Bradford penalty appeal - until McGeady had another long-range effort comfortably saved around the 70th minute mark. A ruckus ensued after a surging run from Tom Flanagan, the Northern Irishman receiving a yellow as Bradford players called for a red.
Duncan Watmore was brought on for the final 15 minutes, Ross keen to see if the pacey forward could stretch a tiring Bradford defence. Sunderland nearly conceded the equalizer, however, after a blunder from Jon McLaughlin saw the keeper scramble back and collect on the line. With no VAR available, the officials went with what they saw: no goal.
Charlie Wyke then came on for Lyden Gooch, and then Dylan McGeouch came on for Chris Maguire as fresh legs were asked to see the game out. Watmore had two decent chances, both of which were saved well by the Bradford keeper, the first presented to him after a find knock down by Charlie Wyke.
Watmore’s running forced the Bantams into multiple fouls, the forward’s energy and determination a welcome return.
Full Time: Sunderland 1-0 Bradford City
Jon McLaughlin, 6/10: One dodgy moment, but did well to mask the ball crossing the line. Solid otherwise.
Tom Flanagan, 6/10: Not sure what happened with his yellow. Couple of dodgy moments, but largely sound.
Jack Baldwin, 6/10: Several good blocks, struggled to assert his dominance at times.
Bryan Oviedo, 6/10: Energetic, but his delivery was rather poor today.
Luke O’Nien, 8/10: He made several brilliant blocks in dangerous moments, and looked good going forward, too. Really good display from the utility man.
Lee Cattermole, 7/10: Controlled the middle well, and forced Bradford to go long. Some nice passing - an assured display.
Max Power, 7/10: I thought Power played well today. Some great tackles, and a lovely array of passing.
Lynden Gooch, 5/10: Lot’s of running, but no end product today. Chose to shoot on occasion when a better option was available.
Chris Maguire, 5/10: Much like Gooch, there was a lot of running, but not a lot came off for the tricky forward.
Aiden McGeady, 7/10: Everything good comes through the Irish winger despite him being a little off the pace. Had his man on toast several times, though, and buried the winner.
Josh Maja, 6/10: Had the shot that led to McGeady’s goal. Some decent half-chances, but struggled to get into the right positions.
(SUB) Duncan Watmore, 7/10: Excellent work rate, and forced the Bradford defence onto the back foot once he came on; almost scored, too. Great to have him back.
(SUB) Charlie Wyke, 6/10: Just what we needed when he came on harried the oppositions and posed a real aerial threat. Hopefully he’s back to full fitness.
MOTM: Luke O’Nien