Sunderland won when it mattered in EFL League One as they profited from Barnsley’s defeat and Luton’s draw, coming from one goal down to win 2-1 against Rochdale at the Crown Oil Arena.
Rochdale sat deep for the majority of the game, and Sunderland struggled to carve out any clear-cut chances before they fell behind when Ian Henderson scored his 18th league goal of the season for League One’s second bottom side.
In the second half, Charlie Wyke received his reward for two brilliant consecutive performances when he levelled up proceedings after 56 minutes. Then, with 89 minutes on the clock, captain George Honeyman scored the winner after Luke O’Nien’s cut-back.
Now, with Barnsley’s 3-1 defeat to Burton Albion and Luton’s 2-2 draw against Blackpool, the win was even sweeter. The Black Cats are now level on points with Barnsley but are still third on goal difference. If Sunderland can win their two games in hand they’ll be within two points of league leaders, Luton.
Jack Ross made one change to the side that won 3-0 against Accrington Stanley on Wednesday night. Aiden McGeady was unavailable to play in this match after an ongoing injury, so Lewis Morgan replaced him in midfield. The gaffer stuck with the same 4-4-2 formation with Charlie Wyke - who performed well on Wednesday - and Will Grigg starting in attack. After completing his three match suspension, George Honeyman was available for selection, but had to settle for a place on the bench.
First Half: Lacking an Attacking Threat
In the opening stages of the game Sunderland were allowed a lot of possession in and around the Rochdale half - and it appeared that the home side were happy to soak up the pressure.
Sunderland’s first effort came when McGeouch’s shot from just outside of the penalty area brought an easy save from the Rochdale goalkeeper. Then, the first big chance went Sunderland’s way when Gooch crossed the ball into the penalty area, but Wyke’s header was blocked and then, Will Grigg’s effort was saved magnificently by Josh Lillis.
Despite Sunderland having the most possession they struggled to carve an opening, and paid the price when Rochdale took the lead.
The ball was whipped into the area and to the back post - and a Rochdale man fell to the ground inside the penalty area. Then, the ball dropped for Bunney, who squared it for top scorer Henderson - and with tonnes of space afforded to him, the veteran forward was able to tuck the ball into the back of the Sunderland net to give the home side the lead.
After the goal, Sunderland were forced into their first substitution when Lynden Gooch came off and captain, George Honeyman, entered into his place.
Second half: Frantic Finish
Sunderland levelled the match with 56 minutes on the clock when Hume passed the ball to Charlie Wyke. He turned his man brilliantly and arrowed his strike into the bottom right corner of the net and past the Rochdale goalkeeper.
Rochdale were close to retaking the lead when a ball up the field was cleared towards his own goal by Jack Baldwin - and as the over-hit pass floated towards the Sunderland net, Jon McLaughlin thankfully managed to tip it over the bar.
With less than 15 minutes to go, Sunderland brought on Kazaiah Sterling in the place of Lewis Morgan as they looked for a winner.
With one minute left to go of normal time, Sunderland found the goal they needed when Dylan McGeouch sprayed a delightfully-weighted pass out to Luke O’Nien on the right wing. He ran to the by-line and tapped the ball back to Honeyman, who managed to flick it into the bottom left corner and send the travelling Sunderland fans into delirium.
After six minutes of additional time, The Lads managed to keep Rochdale at bay and hold out, with the game ending 2-1 to Sunderland, who took away a much-needed three points.
Next up, we face a huge match against Burton Albion at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday night. After Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Barnsley their confidence will be high, so we will need to ride that storm, but a win for the Black Cats will mean that we will go three points clear of the Tykes. Hopefully, we can do this and we can be in pole position for the run in.