After a roller-coaster 2018 that saw the club sold to new ownership after finding itself on the brink of administration, Sunderland faced Shrewsbury Town for their final game of the calendar year almost unrecognizable from the club that started the year.
Jack Ross named an unchanged starting XI for Shrewsbury’s trip to the SoL as he looked for another win to take his side one step closer to the top of the table. However, a stubborn Shrewsbury side held on for a draw.
Here’s how the match unfolded.
After a minute’s silence was held as a sign of respect for players and fans associated with the club who passed away this year, the match began.
From the off, Sunderland seemed a little sluggish, and struggled to find their rhythm. Shrewsbury were often a step quicker, stronger, and looked a little sharper in the opening exchanges.
However, Sunderland paid for their dreadful start. A cheap free-kick allowed Shrewsbury the chance to whip a dangerous ball into the box where Waterfall planted a powerful header beyond McLaughlin’s right, into the far corner.
The goal spurred the Lads into life, somewhat, as players understood that hoofing long diagonals simply wasn’t working. That being said, both Maguire and McGeady struggled to fulfill the advanced central midfield role, meaning Sunderland found themselves limited to the wide areas in their play.
Tom Flanagan had a great chance to bring the Lads level as his shot looked to be nudged past the post from a scrappy corner, but the officials missed the deflection. Sunderland had been spurred into life, though, and Josh Maja found the equaliser just before the half-time whistle as he turned in a brilliant cross from Bryan Oviedo who had raced past his man on the left wing.
Half-time: Sunderland 1-1 Shrewsbury Town
1-1!!! Who else but Josh Maja!!! pic.twitter.com/LiPurp18ZX— Roker Report (@RokerReport) December 29, 2018
Reece James came on for Bryan Oviedo early in the second half after the Cost-Rican was forced off through injury. Sunderland seemed a step or two quicker on the ball in the opening exchanges, yet Jack Ross felt the need to mix things up as Charlie Wyke replaced Chris Maguire soon after.
Wyke’s presence was apparent, his hold-up play just what we have been lacking at times this season. Sunderland were now truly on the front foot, as Josh Maja was able to find pockets of space in and around Wyke, Shrewsbury unable to cope at times.
Duncan Watmore replaced Gooch for the final 25 minutes or so as Jack Ross looked to find a winner. Shrewsbury responded by compacting their shape and sitting deeper, forcing Sunderland to try and play through their ranks, or lob the ball into the box.
A knock-down from Wyke almost found McGeady with room to shoot before a hoisted ball into the box saw Wyke nod over a looping header. Sunderland were firmly in the ascendancy as the clock ticked down, but they needed to find that little piece of quality to get them over the line.
Five minutes of added time were announced just as Max Power crashed a volley over the bar from long range, Sunderland struggling to penetrate the increasingly stubborn Shrewsbury defence.
A fine McLaughlin save prevented an own goal before Sunderland raced to the other end and forced a corner after great play from Duncan Watmore. Jack Baldwin ultimately had a half chance, but his strike flew harmlessly past the post. Reece James was the next to blast over after brilliant play from Charlie Wyke forced an opening - Sunderland out of time.
Full-time: Sunderland 1-1 Shrewsbury Town
Jon McLaughlin, 6/10: Suggestions that he was out of position for the first, but unable to verify without a replay. Good save at the death to stop an own goal.
Tom Flanagan, 6/10: Coped relatively well with the Shrewsbury forwards, too many aimless long balls.
Jack Baldwin, 7/10: Made a handful of great tackles and strode forward a couple of times to create space for others. Couple of iffy moments, but a good showing.
Bryan Oviedo, 6/10: Really wasteful at times, but a lovely ball in for Maja’s goal.
Luke O’Nien, 6/10: Sloppy at first, but grew into the game and made a few good tackles.
Lee Cattermole, 6/10: A few sluggish moments, but a lovely dummy to release Oviedo for Maja’s goal.
Max Power, 6/10: Moves the ball nicely across the middle, but his end product was poor today.
Lynden Gooch, 5/10: Poor today from Gooch. Nothing came off for him.
Chris Maguire, 5/10: See above.
Aiden McGeady, 6/10: A few nice touches, but equally as sluggish as others at times. Looks in need of a rest.
Josh Maja, 7/10: People moan about Maja’s inability to influence the game other than by scoring goals... he’s a striker.
(SUB) Reece James, 6/10: Dependable at the back and moved the ball nicely at times.
(SUB) Charlie Wyke, 7/10: Changed the game when he came on with his hold up play. Unlucky not to grab an assist, or two.
(SUB) Duncan Watmore, 7/10: Also really stretched the defence and was tireless across the pitch. He and Wyke swing the game in our favour, we just couldn’t capitalize.
MOTM: A Poor game, if truth be told, but Josh Maja scored another to rescue our blushes. That’s all we need from him.