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Finlay’s Report: “What on earth are Sunderland’s promotion ambitions - automatics or play-offs?”

Sunderland disappointed at Oxford, leading some supporters to worry that automatic promotion is slipping away from our grasp due to our inability to find a second goal in games.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

What can be Sunderland’s real target now? Automatic promotion? Play-off spot?

Well, yet again, the Lads couldn’t score more than one goal and keep a clean sheet as they let a one goal advantage slip against fifth-bottom Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium.

Jimmy Dunne opened the scoring from a corner in the 34th minute when he nodded in from Grant Leadbitter’s cross. Then, in the 87th minute, Marcus Browne equalised despite Sunderland players protesting that there was a foul on Jimmy Dunne in the build-up to the goal. This now means that Sunderland can’t even catch Luton with three wins from their three games in hand.

Jack Ross made two changes to the side that won 1-0 against AFC Wimbledon at the Stadium of Light last Saturday. Deadline day signing Will Grigg started his first game for Sunderland, replacing Charlie Wyke up top. Grant Leadbitter started his second consecutive match in his second spell at Sunderland, while Lewis Morgan also started his second game and his first away from home. Also, Jack Baldwin replaced Tom Flanagan in the centre of the defence. Chris Maguire and Kazaiah Sterling didn’t even feature on the bench; this might have been because the gaffer is keeping them for the busy schedule upcoming, with three home matches in the space of a week beginning on Tuesday night for the match against Blackpool.

Sunderland AFC

Oxford dominated from the start, carving out the best opportunities and were unlucky not to go in front when Jamie Mackie was provided with acres of space inside the Sunderland penalty area and his attempt was kept out of the goal by Sunderland keeper, Jon McLaughlin.

But, against the run of play, Sunderland took the lead in the 34th minute when a brilliant delivery from Grant Leadbitter from a corner. Jimmy Dune rose the highest and nodded the ball over the goalkeeper and into the centre of the Oxford United net. For once, Sunderland had scored from a set piece in the league!

I thought that Will Grigg did well up top but there was no creativity in midfield to produce the chances for him to score from, so that has to improve for the upcoming matches against Blackpool and Accrington Stanley this week.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

In the second half, Jack Ross brought on Charlie Wyke for the Irish midfielder, Aiden McGeady. This meant that Grigg had a strike partner up top at the Kassam, but there weren’t given enough time to build a relationship as around 20 minutes later, Grigg was replaced by Luke O’Nien.

With only three minutes of normal time left, Sunderland couldn’t hold on as Oxford countered from our attack, with the ball being lobbed up to former Sunderland striker, Jerome Sinclair. Dunne got in front of the ball but was ushered away by Sinclair. The Sunderland players claimed that this was a foul, but the officials didn’t give anything, but in other games this season, I have seen those fouls given. Sinclair sprinted to the by-line and McLaughlin came out, which allowed Sinclair to square the ball to Marcus Browne and he slotted home into the centre of the goal.

After this, no one was able to score another so the match ended Oxford United 1-1 Sunderland AFC.

Next up, we face a match against Blackpool at the Stadium of Light and with the Tangerines in 8th place and within four points of the play-off spots, they will come the Stadium of Light on a high as they beat Walsall 2-0 on Saturday. I expect Chris Maguire and Kazaiah Sterling back in the squad, so hopefully we can claim all three points so that we can be closer to Barnsley in the automatic promotion places.

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