Sunderland weren’t able to hold onto their well-deserved first half lead against Luton Town, instead sharing the points in what was a competitive affair at Kenilworth Road this afternoon.
Jack Ross made two changes from last weekend’s victory over Charlton Athletic as they travelled south to face a Luton Town side many have tipped for successive promotions. Jack Baldwin came in for Alim Ozturk at the back, and Max Power - signed initially on loan from Wigan Athletic this week - came in for Luke O’Nien in the middle of the park.
The opening exchanges at Kenilworth Road were scrappy to say the least as both sides struggled to dominate the early action. Sunderland did find the the first half-chance of the game, though. A cross from Chris Maguire found Glenn Loovens at the back-post; however, the towering Dutchman was unable to apply any real power to his header allowing the Luton keeper to gather easily.
Claims for a penalty were then waved away around the 10 minute mark. George Honeyman had a right to feel aggrieved after a clever pass found him in the box with a chance to pull the trigger, only for the Sunderland skipper to be pulled back and ushered to the ground. The referee waved play on and the resulting corner saw a glancing header from Loovens cause panic among the Luton fans once more.
Tenacious across the park, Luton pressured Sunderland when in possession - forcing Jack Ross’ men into playing a more direct game at times, to no real effect. That being said, new boy Max Power looked very tidy in possession, providing vision and craft to the Sunderland midfield. Fellow debutant, Jack Baldwin, also looked an assured presence at the back providing stability with his no-nonsense approach.
As the half wore on, Sunderland settled into the game and were able to find time and space on the ball thanks to some slick passing and movement. A cleverly worked corner saw the ball find Lynden Gooch just outside the area, the American able to hold off the attention of a Luton defender before flashing a shot just past the keeper’s right-hand post. Close.
Luton were struggling to cope with Sunderland’s pace and ingenuity on the ball, yet that final piece of quality in the final third continued to evade the men in red and white... that was, until the stroke of half-time.
Another surging drive infield from Lynden Gooch allowed Josh Maja to peel away from his man before a deft pass from the Cali-Mackem found Sunderland’s lone striker with time and space in the Luton box. Maja took a touch, steadied himself and duly dispatched his shot across the face of goal and into the bottom left corner. A breakthrough! And a deserved one at that.
Half Time: Luton 0-1 Sunderland
Luton began the second half with far more determination, though aside from a couple of half-chances, they struggled to break down a resilient Sunderland side marshalled well by Loovens and Baldwin.
Lee Cattermole replaced Bali Mumba around ten minutes into the second period, perhaps in an attempt at re-establishing Sunderland’s foothold in the game. Luton’s captain Alan McCormack was then rightly booked for a poor challenge on Josh Maja - a card that had been coming for quite some time.
Neither team was capable of really controlling the game, though another cut inside from Lynden Gooch saw a powerful left-footed shot swatted away by the Luton stopper. Sunderland upped the pressure from this point with several corners and a dangerous free-kick - Maguire’s delivery causing the Luton defence all kinds of problems.
Then, Luton drew level. A short corner routine resulted in a ball deep into the Sunderland area, Lee Cattermole was unable to remove the danger and found himself the wrong side of his man who stabbed a shot across goal and into the Sunderland net. A scruffy start to the half punished.
Sunderland responded well, and some great interplay between Maja and Ovideo found Chis Maguire in the Luton box, his turn and strike crashing against the Luton bar - Sunderland left with twenty minutes to find a winner. Disaster almost struck immediately, though, as a dreadful clearance from the impressive Gooch allowed Luton a chance to cross - Glenn Loovens sliding in to remove the danger. Several minutes later a dangerous cross saw Luton’s number nine fluff his lines and head well-wide. Something had to change if Sunderland were to find a winner.
The Lads responded, though, and a glancing header from Lee Cattermole flew just wide after another wonderful delivery from Chris Maguire. More end-to-end action ensued - both sides smelling the chance for victory. A wonderful ball from Lynden Gooch almost releasing George Honeyman, only for a Luton defender’s last ditch tackle to take the ball away form the Sunderland captain.
Luke O’Nien replaced Josh Maja for the final ten minutes or so, pushing Chris Maguire up top - Sunderland, looking for a way to find a breakthrough. Four minutes of added time were added - both teams still very much in the game. As a final roll of the dice, Lynden Gooch was removed in favour of Luke Molyneux, but it was Luton who were presented with a final chance to impact proceedings. A floated corner dropped nicely for the onrushing Luton defender, but his powerful header crashed well over the bar.
A moment later the final whistle was blown. Spoils shared.
Full Time: Luton 1-1 Sunderland
Jon McLaughlin, 6/10: Fairly comfortable throughout. He’s very steady - will be disappointed not to get his first clean sheet though.
Adam Matthews, 6/10: Steady if unspectacular.
Jack Baldwin, 7/10: Solid presence in the heart of the defence. Good debut.
Glenn Loovens, 7/10: Good performance, marshalled the defence well.
Bryan Oviedo, 6/10: Got forward well, found wanting occasionally in defence.
Bali Mumba, 6/10: Struggled to have a real impact on the game today - understandable as the lad is still only very young!
Max Power, 7/10: Tidy on the ball, good presence in the middle. A very sound debut.
George Honeyman, 7/10: Canny game from the skipper. Unlucky not to be awarded a penalty - otherwise very neat and tidy.
Lynden Gooch, 8/10: Really good game from Gooch - provided the assist for Maja’s goal, looked sharp and creative. Continues to impress.
Chris Maguire, 6/10: Set pieces were good today, and he was constantly involved whenever we got forward. Just needed a little more quality.
Josh Maja, 7/10: Showed composure when he scored his goal. Needs to be more aggressive off the ball though, but a decent display otherwise.
(SUB) Lee Cattermole, 4/10: Out-muscled at the corner that led to the Luton goal. A couple of misplaced passes, too. Didn’t really offer us much in all honesty.
(SUB) Luke O’Nien, N/A: Not enough time to have any real impact.
(SUB) Luke Molyneux, N/A: Not enough time to have any real impact.
Man of the Match: Lynden Gooch.