It is advantage Sunderland in their play-off semi-final with Portsmouth.
After an opening 45 with a limited number of chances, Chris Maguire scored the only goal of the game in the 62nd minute, four minutes after replacing Lewis Morgan. His beautiful volley gave Sunderland a one-goal lead going into Thursday’s away leg at Fratton Park.
Sunderland may have to play their fifth match of the season against Pompey without Alim Ozturk, unless his red card gets rescinded, after he was sent off in the 67th minute following a challenge on Gareth Evans.
Jack Ross made a number of changes to the side that lost 2-1 against Southend United in the final game of the regular League One season. Aiden McGeady was meant to start the match but pulled up in training and was replaced by Lynden Gooch.
Also, Luke O’Nien and Bryan Oviedo came back as wing-backs, while Lee Cattermole replaced Grant Leadbitter. Captain George Honeyman came in in the number ten role, while Morgan replaced Chris Maguire.
First Half: A Lacklustre First Half Ends 0-0
The Black Cats started the match off slowly but eventually found their feet. Lee Cattermole almost gave Sunderland the lead in the first half when a cross from a corner from the left found him at the front post.
He flicked the ball wide of the goal, much to the delight of the travelling Pompey fans.
Charlie Wyke started the match up top by himself and was close to giving the Black Cats an early lead. Max Power’s delivery from the right found Wyke in the area, but his right footed shot was diverted over the bar.
Neither Sunderland or Portsmouth were able to take the initiative, so at half time the scores were level.
Second Half: Maguire Magic Seals First Leg Win
Sunderland had a penalty appeal waved away by referee Andy Woolmer at the start of the second period when Oviedo whipped the ball into the penalty area and Flanagan controlled it magnificently. His shot was blocked by the back of Tom Naylor inside the penalty area, while the Sunderland fans thought it hit the arm of the Pompey man.
Jack Ross decided to make his first change of the match when he took off Lewis Morgan and replaced him with the King, Chris Maguire.
Craig MacGillivray made superb stops when both of these sides met two weeks ago and, yet again, he was on song. Gooch crossed the ball into the penalty area from the edge of the 18 yard box on the right wing. It found Honeyman at the front post and his header left MacGrillivray to pull off a magnificent stop using his chin.
Chris Maguire scored the opening goal of the match when Oviedo’s cross was cleared by Matt Clarke, but only to Maguire, who was in acres of space inside the penalty area. He timed his volley to perfection and it was thundered into the top left corner of the Portsmouth net.
Alim Ozturk saw red five minutes later when Oli Hawkins played the ball to Matt Clarke, who then fed it to Gareth Evans. He was in plenty of space and Ozturk sprinted across to cover, bringing Evans down but winning the ball in the process as shown by the replays just outside of the penalty area.
The referee - Andy Woolmer - gave himself a few seconds to decide and he showed Ozturk a red card. For me, this was the incorrect decision as Evans was taking the ball away from goal, therefore it wasn’t a clear goal scoring opportunity and Ozturk won the ball.
From the following free-kick, Evans’ set piece smashed off the top of the bar after taking a deflection off the head of Jimmy Dunne.
Portsmouth had another chance when Evans’ corner was bundled around the six yard box and it fell to Omar Bogle. The ball was caught under his feet, but when he fired his shot towards goal it was blocked by Luke O’Nien.
Chris Maguire then had an opportunity to double Sunderland’s advantage and their chances of reaching the League One play-off final. His shot from just under 25 yards out clipped the outside the left post - and it proved to be Sunderland’s final big chance of the game as it ended with them taking a one goal advantage into the second leg.
On Thursday night, Sunderland know what they have to do to reach the League One play-off final: keep a clean sheet. It’s the club’s biggest match of the season, with the opportunity to move a step closer to claiming promotion the prize.
The Black Cats know Portsmouth will come out all guns blazing with the home crowd behind them, so the Black Cats need character and drive from players who can deliver a promotion-winning performance.