Sunderland came from behind quickly to win in spectacular fashion away at Gillingham this evening, securing their first three points on the road so far this season.
Goals from Chris Maguire, George Honeyman, Max Power and Josh Maja ensured that the win went to Jack Ross’ men, who now look like a formidable force in this division - one that teams will genuinely fear coming up against when they play with such confidence.
Gillingham: Tomas Holy, Luke O’Neill, Bradley Garmston, Max Ehmer, Gabriel Zakuani (c), Brandon Hanlan, Tom Eaves, Regan Charles-Cook, Josh Parker, Billy Bingham, Mark Byrne
Subs: Tom Hadler, Alex Lacey, Barry Fuller, Callum Reilly, Elliot List, Navid Nasseri, Bradley Stevenson
Sunderland: Jon McLaughlin, Reece James, Don Love, Glenn Loovens, Jack Baldwin, Lee Cattermole, Lynden Gooch, Max Power, George Honeyman (c), Chris Maguire, Josh Maja
Subs: Robbin Ruiter, Alim Ozturk, Dylan McGeouch, Luke O’Nien, Elliot Embleton, Denver Hume, Bali Mumba
The match didn’t get underway in the way Sunderland would’ve hoped it would. Within three minutes, the lads were down, owing to Jon McLaughlin’s poor decision to race off his line as striker Tom Eaves advanced to meet the delivery he was always going to get to first, subsequently heading the ball into the back of the net.
A mere minute, however, was all it took for the Lads to draw level. Glenn Loovens flicked the ball on for Chris Maguire who in turn nodded the ball into the back of the net, bringing Sunderland immediately back into the game.
The Black Cats very nearly took the lead very shortly after. George Honeyman drilled a low ball into the centre of the box and into the path of the advancing Max Power, but with his first-time effort he scooped the ball narrowly over the bar.
But then Sunderland did take the lead! Lynden Gooch held off two Gillingham defenders before picking out an incisive pass for Josh Maja, who demonstrated equally formidable hold-up play before shifting possession out to Honeyman in acres of space - the captain capping off this Mackem offensive by rifling the ball into the top left corner.
A blink of the eyes, and suddenly Max Power is taking aim on the edge of the box and sending an illusive daisy-trimmer into the bottom left to get a quickfire third, renewing the roars of the travelling Sunderland fans.
As the first half drew nearer to its end, however, Gillingham began to force their way back into the game and looked especially dangerous from set-pieces. Tom Eaves, who’d made a nuisance of himself all evening hitherto, missed a big chance unmarked at the far post when a cross flashed past him.
This action packed first half drew to an end with Sunderland sitting on a two goal advantage, but hopefully wary of their foes who certainly didn’t look down and out.
HT: Gillingham 1-3 Sunderland (Eaves 3’, Maguire 4’, Honeyman 18’, Power 20’)
The hosts picked up where they left off and kept the Lads under substantial pressure. Lee Cattermole was forced to head the ball off his line when when Eaves one again got ahead of McLaughlin and glanced an effort goalbound.
But when Sunderland caught a break, they made it count. Reece James did well to intercept the ball, race forward and square a low cross into the box - it was then over to Josh Maja to capitalise on the Gills’ moment of defensive confusion as he controlled the ball and tapped it into the bottom right corner from only a few yards away.
With a three goal safety buffer and only half an hour remaining, it was clearly apparent that this was to be our night, but that didn’t stop Gillingham continuing to have a go. Brandon Hanlon dragged the ball across the face of goal once Don Love was beaten, but McLaughlin made a vital, desparate lunge to clear the ball off his line.
Eaves was then the quickest to gather the rebound, but all he could do was strike the bar and send the ball behind for a goal kick.
The game did eventually petered out as we entered the final ten minutes, with neither side really threatening again. All in all, it was a solid victory for Sunderland, with the scoreline perhaps betraying the efforts of the home side.
FT: Gillingham 1-4 Sunderland (Eaves 3’, Maguire 4’, Honeyman 18’, Power 20’, Maja 59’)
Jon McLaughlin, 7/10: A lack of positional awareness was arguably the reason for Gillingham getting their opener but that aside he made some great saves to stop them getting any more.
Reece James, 8/10: Tenacious in the tackle and always looked capable of creating something going forward. I was worried we might get too dependent on Bryan Oviedo, but in Reece James he has some serious competition for his spot.
Don Love, 6/10: Alright. Might’ve been to blame for a goal in the second half if McLaughlin wasn’t at hand to stop Hanlan. Our weakest performer today.
Jack Baldwin, 9/10: Solid. Assured. Formidable. Just a really good defender.
Glenn Loovens, 7/10: Also solid but got done for pace every now and then.
Lee Cattermole, 8/10: Sprayed some lovely, intelligent passes around and not once did he look off the pace.
Lynden Gooch, 7/10: Always a threat going forward, as per.
Max Power, 8/10: Great. Netted a lovely daisy trimmer and marauded the centre of the park.
George Honeyman, 9/10: Rifled home a tremendous effort, marshalled his midfield and pressed the Gills’ back-line all evening. An exemplary captain’s performance.
Chris Maguire, 7/10: Lively, industrious and took his goal well. Dropped off a bit once we stopped playing through the middle and started pumping long balls instead - but that’s hardly his fault.
Josh Maja, 7/10: Kept the pressure on the defence with his pressing and was composed in his finish.
(SUB) Dylan McGeouch, 6/10: Didn’t have all the time in the world to make an impact, but he looked tidy nonetheless.
(SUB) Denver Hume, 6/10: Same as above.
(SUB) Luke O’Nien, 6/10: Same as above the above.
Man of the Match: Jack Baldwin.