Substitute Chris Maguire’s outstanding volley has given ten-man Sunderland a narrow edge in the League One play-offs against Portsmouth.
Maguire’s strike ensured a 1-0 victory for the hosts ahead of Thursday’s return leg at Fratton Park.
The shock dismissal of Alim Ozturk for a straight-card halted the Wearsiders’ momentum who were dominating when the match was 11 versus 11.
The Black Cats were the better team in a tense match-up that was littered with errors, the major disappointment is not knowing whether they could have sealed the tie had it not been for an unjust red-card.
Portsmouth dominated the cagey early proceedings at the Stadium of Light, but struggled to create any clear-cut chances on goal. The hosts looked nervy and unsure of themselves, struggling to keep possession for long enough to bring their quality attackers into play.
Sunderland had the first chance of note on the 25 minute mark with Charlie Wyke completely misjudging a close range header. An excellent Lynden Gooch cross picked out the target man, but Wyke lost the flight of the ball, heading high and wide.
After Wyke’s miss Sunderland began to settle and get the ball into dangerous areas, but the Wearsiders were let down by their final ball on several occasions. Lewis Morgan and George Honeyman were guilty of particularly egregious play in the final third.
Both sides saw strong penalty appeals turned away in an increasingly frantic first-half. Firstly Oliver Hawkins saw his appeal waved away after he was shoved in the back by Tom Flanagan. Wyke also saw a decent shout turned down after he was clattered by Christian Burgess after beating the centre-half to the ball.
After the break the game remained an attritional arm-wrestle containing little quality, which made Craig MacGillivray’s block from George Honeyman all the more vital. The Sunderland skipper’s header from the six-yard box was blocked by the Portsmouth keeper’s face. Honeyman failed to get any purchase on his glancing header from an excellent Gooch cross, giving MacGillivray the chance to be the hero.
Just minutes after his introduction Maguire put the Black Cats ahead. Matt Clarke half-cleared an impressive Bryan Oviedo cross that was heading towards Wyke, the ball fell to Maguire a few yards inside the Portsmouth area, the 30-year-old let fly clean on the volley, the sheer ferocity of the strike beat MacGillivray who barely moved.
Referee Andy Woolmer completely changed the complexion of the game halfway through the second-half. Woolmer sent off Alim Ozturk after he tripped up Gareth Evans. Ozturk was beat to the ball by Portsmouth’s energetic midfielder, but the ball was going away from goal, with McLaughlin in contention to beat Evans to the loose ball making the decision to send Ozturk packing absolutely baffling.
From the resulting free-kick Evans hit the bar, his rocket may have taken a crucial knick of substitute Jimmy Dunne en-route to hitting the crossbar. From that corner, O’Nien produced heroics to block Nathan Thompson from point-blank range. O’Nien dived at the ball before Thompson could finish inside the six-yard box.
Maguire hit the post with less than 15 minutes remaining, a poor giveaway in defence from Portsmouth gave him a free run on goal and his 20 yard daisy-cutter clipped the outside of the post, going wide.
Despite having a man advantage Portsmouth struggled to pressurise the Mackems. Their five-minute flurry after Ozturk’s sending off was as good as it got, as Sunderland impressively killed the game. There were points in the final 20 minutes where Jack Ross’ men still looked the more likely to score.
The tie is far from over, but Sunderland showed impressive resilience and class to take a one-goal lead to Fratton Park.
Jon McLaughlin, 7/10: Authoritative in dealing with crosses and decisive in everything he did.
Luke O’Nien, 7/10: Battled well and provided vital energy to drive Sunderland forward.
Tom Flanagan, 5/10: Looked nervous all night, gave away the ball throughout.
Alim Ozturk, 6/10: Was playing well prior to being absurdly red-carded for a challenge that any decent ref would award a yellow card for.
Bryan Oviedo, 7/10: Recovered from a slow start to play a vital role in Sunderland’s goal.
Lee Cattermole, 6/10: An 8/10 without the ball and 4/10 with it.
Max Power, 5/10: Really poor in an attacking sense, and far too passive in his midfield battles.
George Honeyman, 6/10: Improved after half-time playing a role Sunderland’s best attacking sequences.
Lewis Morgan, 4/10: Fell way short of the high standards he’s set for himself over the past month.
Lynden Gooch, 7/10: Surprisingly effective creating chances and showcasing confidence on a huge occasion where others faltered.
Charlie Wyke, 6/10: Recovered from a poor start to create chaos in the Portsmouth area.
(SUB) Chris Maguire, 7/10: What a performance! His volley was majestic!
(SUB) Jimmy Dunne 6/10: Saved a potential goal with his deflection on Evans’ free-kick.
Man of the Match: Luke O’Nien