Sunderland are out of the Carabao Cup, losing a penalty shootout 4-2 to Oxford United with both of their strikers - Will Grigg and Marc McNulty - missing their spot kicks.
The match was 1-1 going into the shootout after McNulty equalised with 78 minutes on the clock. Robert Hall netted the opening goal for the home side in the first half, but after riding their luck due to numerous spurned Sunderland chances they weren’t able to hold on to their lead.
Grigg and McNulty missed their penalties, after Power and O’Nien scored for the Black Cats from the spot, with Oxford scoring all four of their spot kicks.
Phil Parkinson made five changes to the side that lost 1-0 against Shrewsbury Town on Saturday in League One. He went with three defenders at the back, with Tom Flanagan partnering Joel Lynch and Jordan Willis - this gave Conor McLaughlin and Denver Hume a licence to roam forward more often.
After picking up a knock on Saturday, Lee Burge wasn’t in the squad with Jon McLaughlin starting in between the sticks. Chris Maguire was suspended having picked up two yellows against Accrington and Sheffield United, so Aiden McGeady started up top alongside Marc McNulty, with Will Grigg dropping to the bench.
First Half Action
The Black Cats were quick out of the blocks and almost took the lead within a matter of seconds. A high, looping ball fell for Marc McNulty, who was inside the penalty area, but his shot was dragged wide of the left post.
Oxford United had an attempt to take the lead when the ball fell for Fosu at a tight angle at the back post from around a few yards out, but it struck the side-netting of Jon McLaughlin’s goal.
Sunderland came within inches of taking the lead when Marc McNulty successfully beat the offside trap and was through on goal, but his effort struck the left post and rolled away from danger for the hosts.
On the counter-attack, Oxford - the 1986 winners of this competition - struck first blood in this cup tie. Fosu received the ball inside the penalty area after his teammates came sprinting away with it on the halfway line after dispossessing Lynch. Tariqe Fosu’s pass was meant for James Henry, but ran past him and Hall came steaming in, and curled the ball around about five Sunderland players and into the left-hand side of the net.
Sunderland probably should have been level just before half time when Marc McNulty put the ball on a plate for Max Power - who netted the goal of the round in the previous stage of the competition. From around six yards out, somehow Power managed to roll it millimetres away from the left post.
Second Half Action
A change in formation for Sunderland was what was required around ten minutes after the restart, with Phil Parkinson taking off Joel Lynch, with Will Grigg coming on. The Black Cats changed their system to a 4-4-2 with Grigg partnering Marc McNulty up top, and Aiden McGeady going out wide-left with George Dobson changing roles to wide-right.
Oxford were close to doubling their advantage when James Henry played the ball to Shandon Baptiste, who dribbled it into space inside the penalty area, but his shot was punched away by Jon McLaughlin, who stood strong in the centre of his goal.
Another Sunderland substitution followed from Phil Parkinson after 67 minutes when Luke O’Nien replaced Denver Hume in defence.
Sunderland’s best chance to equalising came in bizarre circumstances. George Dobson curled the ball in from the left and it flew towards the goal. Unluckily for the Black Cats, Simon Eastwood managed to push the ball onto the crossbar, to divert it from crossing his goal line.
With 78 minutes on the clock, that equaliser did come for the Black Cats through Marc McNulty’s second goal of the competition. A Grant Leadbitter corner from the right found Conor McLaughlin, who managed to bundle the ball to McNulty, who was about two yards out. McNulty slid it under Simon Eastwood and into the back of the Oxford net.
The visitors probably should have gone in front when Conor McLaughlin played the ball into the penalty area to Grigg, but he dummied it to McNulty, who was able to take a few touches and get the ball out of his feet, but he placed it wide of the right post.
Sunderland thought they should have had a spot-kick four minutes before the end of the 90 minutes when Luke O’Nien was brought down in the area by Sam Long, but the referee waved away the penalty claims.
Once the two minutes of additional time ended the match ended Oxford United 1-1 Sunderland AFC - which meant penalties would be needed to decide the winner.
Both Oxford and Sunderland scored their first penalties, with James Henry netting to the bottom left and Max Power firing into the top left corner.
Then, in the next round of spot kicks, Jon McLaughlin was close to keeping out Anthony Forde’s penalty, but it sneaked past the gloves of the Sunderland goalkeeper. Luke O’Nien also scored his penalty to make it two-all.
After Tariqe Fosu scored Oxford’s third penalty, pressure was on Will Grigg to make it level again, but he arrowed the ball over the top of the crossbar.
John Mousinho hammered the ball into the back of the net, therefore meaning Sunderland had to score and Jon McLaughlin would have to then save Oxford’s fifth. Marc McNulty stepped up, but his penalty was saved to Simon Eastwood’s bottom left, meaning Oxford progressed to the quarter-finals.
Can Sunderland’s exit from the Carabao Cup be interpreted as a positive?
Despite the Black Cats wanting to focus on their league form, being a penalty shootout away from being quarter-finalists of a major English cup competition where we could have drawn one of the big boys is very gutting, but we shouldn’t feel sad for ourselves for too long.
After playing Burnley and Sheffield United in the previous two rounds, Sunderland had to face arguably easier opposition in the fourth round in Oxford United, but the fellow League One side are on an unstoppable run and are one of the form sides in the country.
During the victories against the two Premier League sides there had been no pressure on the Black Cats as they had been expected to be knocked out, but on Tuesday night that wasn’t the case.
In the match itself Sunderland were caught out against the run of play, moments after McNulty had struck the post. Joel Lynch gave the ball away in the build-up, and all game he wasn’t up to the full standard that we have seen of him in the league. He lunged into rash challenges and was lucky not to have been booked - otherwise we would have been walking on a tight rope.
As the second half progressed, we were very unlucky not to have won the match with all the attempts that we had, and in my opinion, we should have had a penalty when O’Nien was brought down inside the area by Long, but the referee disagreed.
Despite producing a brilliant performance against Tranmere in League One, I fear that Will Grigg’s confidence will decrease significantly as a result of his penalty miss. As a prolific striker at Wigan, I can’t see why Grigg hasn’t been in the same form with the Black Cats and Parkinson needs to find the correct formula as having a striker that can score 20-25 goals - like Josh Maja - is absolutely key.
Sol Campbell was in the crowd to watch the Black Cats lose on penalties against Oxford, as his new Southend side travel up to the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon. After being left out on Tuesday night, I would say that Duncan Watmore will most likely return to the side with Chris Maguire also coming back into the starting 11 after being suspended. If Lee Burge is back from injury, it would be good to see who Parkinson will choose in goal. We have to claim three points after three defeats under Parkinson already - so hopefully we can ‘stop the rot’.