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Finlay’s Report: Do Sunderland need a Christmas miracle in order to achieve promotion?

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Whilst RR’s junior journo Finlay Anderson feels that Sunderland gave an improved performance on Saturday, do we require a miracle this Christmas in order to turn around our faltering season?

Sunderland v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Sunderland have dropped to their lowest position in their history as they slipped to 12th in the League One table, after their 1-1 draw against Blackpool at the Stadium of Light.

Matty Virtue scored a superb strike with less than four minutes on the clock to give the Tangerines the lead, but after 37 minutes, Charlie Wyke poked Sunderland back level. After picking up two yellow cards, George Dobson was dismissed late on, meaning that he will receive a one-match suspension.

They dropped to 12th after Shrewsbury’s 2-1 victory over Coventry City at New Meadow, but the Black Cats have cut the gap between themselves and the play-off places to four points.


The Team...

Phil Parkinson made five changes to the side that lost 1-0 against Gillingham last weekend. Aiden McGeady wasn’t involved in the first team after news broke on Thursday that he would have to look for a new club come January. Charlie Wyke began his first home league match under Parkinson as he lead the line. After bizarrely being dropped from the side at Gillingham, Denver Hume returned to the starting XI, with Duncan Watmore and Chris Maguire coming back into the side.

For Blackpool, Simon Grayson made one change to the side that beat local rivals Fleetwood Town 3-1 last Saturday. Ben Heneghan picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in that match, so was suspended for this game. The Sheffield United loanee was replaced with central-defender Curtis Tilt at the heart of defence.

Sunderland v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

First Half Action

With just over three minutes on the clock, Blackpool took the lead to make a tough afternoon for the Black Cats even tougher. The home side were unable to clear their lines after James Husband lifted the ball back across goal and it fell for Matty Virtue, who superbly curled the ball into the top left corner and left Jon McLaughlin stranded.

Sunderland began to pursue an equaliser and were getting closer and closer to achieving their aim. Another chance went begging when Luke O’Nien’s chip to the back post found Watmore, who from a few yards out, headed the ball over the crossbar.

Despite all of Sunderland’s attacks, Blackpool always looked a threat and leading goal scorer, Armand Gnanduillet wasn’t far away from topping his tally up to 12 for the season, when his shot was blocked by the legs of Jon McLaughlin.

Again, the hosts began to knock on the door when Duncan Watmore’s pin-point precision cross found Maguire, who was in acres of space and was able to trap the ball under his spell. Then, his attempt didn’t match the skill, as his shot was deflected wide.

From the resulting corner, Charlie Wyke netted his first goal under the reign of Phil Parkinson to give the team a huge boost. Maguire’s corner from the right picked out Wyke, who was magnificently able to flick the ball into the top right corner to beat Jak Alnwick.

Within a matter of minutes, the Tangerines should have been back in the lead when Jon McLaughlin palmed away a corner from the left, but it fell for James Husband. The Norwich City loanee controlled the ball and fired it towards goal, where it was heading in, until it was blocked on the line by Armand Gnanduillet. The assistant referee then put his flag up for offside, meaning that Sunderland had got away with it.

Sunderland v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Second Half Action

At half time, Blackpool mde their first substitution when they brought on Sean Scannell for Sullay Kaikai.

Charlie Wyke wasn’t far off scoring his second goal of the game when a cross from the left accurately found the striker, who skilfully flicked the ball towards the Blackpool goal but it bounced into the arms of Jak Alnwick.

Wyke came even closer to doubling his tally for the match from another Chris Maguire corner. He connected with a beautiful delivery from the right, but his header was cannoned off the top of the crossbar.

With just less than 20 minutes of the match left, Phil Parkinson made his first alteration with Lynden Gooch returning from injury, as he came on to replace Duncan Watmore.

George Dobson was then dismissed after picking up his second yellow card. His tackle on Armand Gnanduillet left the Ivorian on the floor - and, as such, the referee issued Dobson a second caution which was shortly followed by a red. Not long after Parkinson made his second change by bringing on Will Grigg in place of Charlie Wyke.

Simon Grayson also made his second switch of the game by bringing on Joseph Nuttall for Nathan Delfouneso.

With 83 minutes on the clock, Matty Virtue tried to score his second goal of the match and another long-range effort, but his attempt flew miles over the top of the crossbar.

In order to cement the midfield after the red card, Grant Leadbitter was brought on by Phil Parkinson, with Chris Maguire making way.

As both teams looked for a winner, Sunderland were millimetres away from finding that late advantage. Luke O’Nien’s low cross across the face of goal was just missed by the boot of Will Grigg as it rolled into the arms of Jak Alnwick.

After the additional four minutes of added time, the match ended Sunderland AFC 1-1 Blackpool - meaning that Phil Parkinson’s winless streak continues.

Sunderland v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict....

On Saturday the Sunderland fans saw an improvement from the Black Cats as we managed to take a point against high-flying Blackpool. Despite stopping the losing streak, we are still without a win in the last nine matches in all competitions - now, though, we can head into a break from league action with more confidence than we had seven days ago after a below-average performance against Gillingham.

Phil Parkinson’s team selection saw five changes from the last match and it showed the inclusion of Charlie Wyke. Over the past few weeks, it has been very clear what we have been lacking at the top end of the pitch, so it was nice to see Wyke back starting. Not only did he provide an aerial threat in the box, but he managed to get himself on the score sheet with a powering finish. Also, he should have had another, but his header struck the crossbar. It was good to see him score after his goal last weekend was ruled out by the officials.

George Dobson’s red card will divide opinion between different Sunderland fans, but we will be without him for the Boxing Day encounter with Bolton Wanderers. It should be a simple swap in the centre of midfield, with Grant Leadbitter the notable choice to replace him.

So, we have an 11-day break from league action as next week’s game against Bury was cancelled after they were expelled from the EFL. We saw Lynden Gooch return on Saturday - coming off the bench for Watmore with less than 20 minutes left. This break will hopefully bring Gooch back up to full match fitness, which will be a bonus for Parkinson to use at his disposal. It is still unclear how serious Watmore’s injury is, after he was taken off on Saturday. Bolton will provide a tough opposition and will be a team, who will come up to the Stadium of Light looking for the three points to lift them out of the danger that they are in, but hopefully, we can take a much-needed three points.