Will the result and performance last night be a pivotal point in Sunderland season?
As they picked up three points and teams around them dropped points, the Lads closed the gap between them and the automatic promotion spots, contesting a six-goal thriller with Gillingham at the Stadium of Light yesterday.
Lee Cattermole made history as he scored his first ever goal at the Stadium of Light to put the hosts into a one-goal lead with four minutes on the clock. Only two minutes later, though, January transfer target Tom Eaves levelled proceedings, much to the delight of the travelling Gillingham fans.
Then, with only ten minutes gone, Tom Flanagan scored the third goal of the match, nodding the hosts into the lead.
But it wasn’t long before the away side were level again - after a mad goalmouth scramble, Brandon Hanlan eventually profited to equalize for the Gills. In the second half, two penalties, both won by Luke O’Nien, scored by both Will Grigg and Aiden McGeady sealed the crucial three points for Sunderland.
With Barnsley drawing 0-0 with Burton Albion and Portsmouth coming from one-nil down to claim a point against Sunderland’s next opponents, Bristol Rovers, Jack Ross’ side have narrowed the gap at the top of the table to only four points.
Jack Ross made three changes to the side that drew 2-2 against Accrington Stanley on Friday night. After a positive second half performance, Chris Maguire was rewarded with a start, with Lynden Gooch dropping to the bench. Also, after giving away a penalty against Stanley, Jack Baldwin was replaced with Tom Flanagan. A switch of formation meant that Charlie Wyke dropped to the bench as Lee Cattermole came into the starting 11 after injury.
A quick start was what was needed by Sunderland, and they did when an outstanding delivery from Grant Leadbitter from a corner from the right found its way to Cattermole at the back post. The Sunderland midfielder was able to drill the ball into the bottom left corner of the Gillingham net.
Despite this early start, the hosts were pegged back when a cross into the penalty area travelled to Eaves at the back post. McLaughlin committed himself by rushing for the ball and the Gillingham forward took the ball away from the goal and then turned and fired into the back of an empty goal.
Sunderland were back in front four minutes later when an in swinging cross from another Leadbitter corner allowed Flanagan to break free from the pack inside the penalty area. He was given a free header and nodded the ball powerfully past the Gillingham goalie.
Chris Maguire was taken off with an injury after 18 minutes, after a promising opening display, and was replaced with Lynden Gooch.
Going into half time, the score was level after Sunderland couldn’t clear their lines after a Luke O’Neill corner and the ball fell to Brandon Hanlan, who tucked the ball under the legs of Jon McLaughlin.
The turning point in the match would come in the second half when Luke O’Nien was brought down in the penalty area by Da Silva Lopes, after he was setting himself up for the shot, and the referee pointed to the spot.
Will Grigg had the chance to score and slotted the ball into the right side of the goal and the 6’ 9” goalkeeper, Tomas Holy, was sent the wrong way.
Luke O’Nien, one of Sunderland’s star men, won another penalty when Regen Charles-Cook was tumbling to the ground and brought O’Nien down with him, winning the hosts another spot-kick.
Aiden McGeady took this one and arrowed the ball straight down the middle and Tomas Holy couldn’t keep the ball out and from there, the win was sealed and the match ended Sunderland AFC 4-2 Gillingham FC.
Next up, Sunderland face an away trip to Bristol as they face Bristol Rovers, who are coming into the game on the back of a 1-1 draw at Fratton Park. I don’t think that Chris Maguire will start after hobbling off with an injury in the 18th minute, but hopefully we can claim another three points.