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Finlay’s Report: “Sunderland’s defensive pairing of Jack Baldwin & Tom Flanagan MUST change!”

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RR’s junior reporter Finlay Anderson is back with his assessment of Sunderland’s latest game, and he’s very strong in his view that our defensive pairing of Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin has to be split up before we fall behind in the promotion race.

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Sunderland’s hopes of automatic promotion to the Championship received a major dent as they lost their first home match of the season at the hands of Coventry City. It was a nine-goal thriller at the Stadium of Light, which saw nine different goal scorers and Coventry win 5-4.

In the first half, Sunderland went 3-1 down, but goals from Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg meant that the Black Cats were level at the interval. Then, in the second half - after coming back again to make it 4-4 - a goal in the 78th minute from Conor Chaplin, who had only been on the pitch for a minute, meant that Sunderland dropped what could be a vital three points.

This result and the scores around League One meant that Sunderland’s upcoming home match against Portsmouth is even more crucial as both teams are on 80 points with a game in hand. Barnsley have moved up to second, while the Black Cats have dropped to third after the Tykes’ 4-2 victory over Fleetwood.

Although the formation didn’t work to its full potential on Tuesday night when the Black Cats drew 1-1 with Burton Albion, Jack Ross stuck with the same 4-4-2 formation for this match at the Stadium of Light. The gaffer made only one forced change after that 1-1 draw against Burton, with Dylan McGeouch dropping out of the squad with injury, and Max Power replacing him. Also, Lee Cattermole and Aiden McGeady were on the bench after coming back from their issues that left them out of the Rochdale and Burton games.

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First Half: Frantic First 45 Ends 3-3

Coventry applied pressure early on and showed why they are pushing for the play-offs when they took the lead in the 12th minute. O’Nien sloppily gave the ball away to Amadou Bakayoko, who played it to Hiwula. Then, it was touched to Enobakhare, who tip-toed his way into the penalty area, and with four Sunderland men around him he managed to side-foot it into the bottom right corner.

Three minutes later, Sunderland levelled when Morgan carried the ball up the left wing and dribbled it in and around the penalty area. The Scottish midfielder played it to Honeyman on the edge of the penalty area. His shot deflected off Dominic Hyam and travelled into the back of the net.

Sunderland defensive errors proved costly when Sunderland conceded again when Luke Thomas’ through ball to Bakayoko ripped the Sunderland backline into two. McLaughlin wasn’t able to keep Bakayoko’s effort out of the back of his net as the ball rolled into the bottom left corner.

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The Black Cats looked as if they were falling apart when Coventry scored again. Enobakhare played a one-two with Mason and the ball was played through to Hiwula, who was in front of Luke O’Nien - who was caught out again. Hiwula’s shot deflected off Baldwin and looped over Jon McLaughlin.

Sunderland put up a fight when they got one back. This was when Morgan’s cross was spilled by Lee Burge in the Coventry goal. Charlie Wyke then pounced on the opportunity to make it 2-3.

After four minutes of extra time at the end of the first half, Sunderland levelled when Morgan’s cross from the left was nodded down by Charlie Wyke - who was involved in another Sunderland goal - to Will Grigg. His shot from a few yards out was poked into the bottom right corner.

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Second Half: Unable to Come Back Again

Early on in the second half, Sunderland had a penalty appeal when Grigg was clipped from behind by Jordan Shipley inside the penalty area, but Sunderland’s protests were ignored by the referee John Busby.

With 55 minutes on the clock, Coventry retook the lead when Bakayoko played the ball to Shipley, who was over 20 yards out, and his shot was arrowed into the bottom right corner of the Sunderland net.

14 minutes later, Sunderland levelled the match again when McGeady, who came on in a double substitution with Kazaiah Sterling, passed the ball to Wyke, who was on the edge of the penalty area. He played it back to Power who set himself up for the shot, which took a deflection off Tom Davies, and bounced its way into the bottom right corner.

The Sky Blues produced a sucker-punch blow for the Black Cats when they scored the match’s ninth through Conor Chaplin. An error from Jack Baldwin proved costly as he couldn’t stretch enough to block the ball from reaching Chaplin. The former Portsmouth striker did his old team a favour as his shot clipped the bottom of the bar and flew into the back of the net.

Sunderland couldn’t produce another equaliser so the match ended Sunderland AFC 4-5 Coventry City.

Next up, Sunderland face another tough game against Doncaster Rovers on Good Friday at 17:15, who will come to the Stadium of Light looking to keep hold of the final play-off spot.

Jack Ross and the Sunderland fans will expect an immediate response after the Lads’ first home defeat of the season on Saturday. Also, the centre-back partnership between Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan must change as they have been at fault for some of the goals in the 4-5 defeat and is something that I have noticed in the last few games.

Hopefully, Aiden McGeady is fit enough to start the match as we all know the attacking threat he provides. I would even class Friday’s match as a must win match as if we lose and Barnsley and Portsmouth win, the gap between us and the automatic promotion spot will increase and we may have to settle for the play-offs.