Before the match Joey Barton stated that he wanted to send the Sunderland fans home with tears in their eyes - and he did exactly that as his side managed to clinch a late winner to steal all three points last night at Highbury Stadium.
The result leaves Sunderland unable to achieve automatic promotion, instead having to fight out the order of the two play-offs.
Despite having lost just four times all season we’ve drawn 19 matches, which is simply not good enough for a side fighting promotion. Over half of those were from winning positions, so if we hadn’t been so shaky at the back we would have undoubtedly been in contention for an automatic promotion place - and possibly even the league title.
Jack Ross made three changes to the side that drew 1-1 against Portsmouth on Saturday. Both Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke were rested and weren’t featured on the bench.
This meant that Ross gave starts to Lynden Gooch and Will Grigg.
Furthermore, Chris Maguire was given his first start since he returned from his long-term injury, with captain George Honeyman dropping to the bench. Tom Flanagan and Alim Ozturk partnered each other in the centre of defence for a second successive match.
First Half: Sunderland’s Pressure Pays Off
After Peterborough took the lead against Portsmouth at Fratton Park through Lee Tomlin, Sunderland fans knew that a big win could be even more vital. Max Power had his shot easily saved by the Fleetwood goalkeeper at it was aimed directly at him - a sitter in every sense of the word.
Chances were coming thick and fast for Sunderland but they couldn’t stick them away - Will Grigg’s curling shot from inside of the penalty area stuck the crossbar when it looked like it was heading into the top right corner.
At Fratton Park Peterborough doubled their lead through Ivan Toney, and Sunderland took the lead against Fleetwood. O’Nien whipped in a free-kick from the right and Cattermole flicked the ball into the left hand side of the net at the near post. Now, the Black Cats needed to build on the goal and reduce the goal difference at the top if they want to stand any chance of gaining promotion on Saturday evening.
In the 38th minute, Portsmouth brought one back through Ben Close and at half time at Highbury, the score was Fleetwood Town 0-1 Sunderland.
Second Half: Sunderland Fall Apart
Just after the hour mark Portsmouth had levelled against Peterborough via Christian Burgess, and Jack Ross made his first substitution, bringing on Kazaiah Sterling in the place of Will Grigg. Shortly after George Honeyman came on in place of Chris Maguire.
After dominating in the opening 45, Sunderland failed to turn up in the second, just like in so many other games recently.
Paddy Madden equalised for Fleetwood in the 73rd minute to dent Sunderland’s confidence - the ball was cut-back by Lewis Coyle to Madden, who fired it under Jon McLaughlin after he was given tonnes of space in the penalty area. Another basic defensive error.
With both Sunderland and Portsmouth drawing when there was 15 minutes left, Sunderland’s promotion hopes were dead - unless they could score in the remaining time left. And with an additional four minutes to find a winner, the Lads were made to pay for their lack of care in the second period.
A cross from the corner by Ross Wallace was teasing and attracted everyone to the ball. Ashley Eastham rose the highest and nodded it into the back of the net to give Joey Barton’s side the win right at the death.
Next up, Sunderland face their final game of the regular League One season when they travel to Roots Hall to face Southend United. I would expect Jack Ross to rest some of the players, but they still need to go for all three points so that they can take the momentum into the play-offs. The game is now slightly meaningless for Sunderland, but the match will be all the more important for Southend, who are fighting to keep their League One status.