Sunderland were left to rue a penalty miss after they let a one-goal lead slip against Rotherham United at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday night.
The captain for the night, Aiden McGeady, missed a vital spot-kick as Marc McNulty’s effort was cancelled out by a Jake Hastie strike in the 66th minute, meaning that honours were shared at the Stadium of Light.
Despite not claiming three points, the Black Cats moved up to fourth, but know that a win would have meant that they would have closed the gap at the top to two points with a game in hand.
Jack Ross made two changes to the side that won 3-1 against Accrington Stanley on Saturday.
Luke O’Nien was pushed further forward as he replaced Chris Maguire, who Jack Ross revealed after the match is still suffering from the injury that left him out of Peterborough.
Conor McLaughlin played at right-back, with Dylan McGeouch switching with Grant Leadbitter in the centre of midfield.
After scoring his first league goal of the season on Saturday, Marc McNulty started his third game in a row.
Sunderland were quick out of the blocks and scored within the first 31 seconds. Alim Ozturk’s outstanding awareness to see McNulty making a darting run in behind gave the hosts the opening as the long ball was greeted with a superb touch to attract it to the boot of the Sunderland striker. The Rotherham goalkeeper came rushing off his line and made himself intimidating for McNulty, but the on-loan striker ushered the ball around the goalkeeper and into the back of an empty net.
Not long after, Daniel Iversen produced a brilliant stop to deny McGeady as Sunderland pressed on their positive start to the game.
Then, with 29 minutes on the clock, Sunderland were given a chance to double their tally and put clear daylight between themselves and their opponents. McNulty flicked the ball behind him from Willis’ long ball and Gooch gathered before darting into the Rotherham box. There, the American was brought down by Clark Robinson just inside the penalty area.
Aiden McGeady stepped up to take the spot-kick, and after his halted run-up, the Irishman’s powerless penalty was easily saved by Daniel Iversen. A great chance missed.
Rotherham had their chances in the first half and weren’t far away from levelling when Hastie’s cross from the left was whipped into the penalty area and Ladapo rose the highest, but his header was grabbed with both hands by Jon McLaughlin.
Shortly before half time, McGeady looked to make up for his penalty miss when he produced a little piece of quality when he manoeuvred towards goal, but his right-footed effort arrowed wide of the right post.
From the beginning of the second half, McNulty looked like he had a problem, so with an hour gone, he was replaced as a precaution by Charlie Wyke up front.
Rotherham had the upper hand at the start of the second half, and after Wiles’ shot from outside of the penalty area was deflected it fell for Jake Hastie, whose effort was kept out by the legs of Jon McLaughlin.
Only four minutes later, with 66 minutes on the clock, Sunderland’s frailties were clear for all to see as they conceded the equaliser - meaning that for the tenth match of the season, they didn’t keep a clean sheet.
Conor McLaughlin was substituted by Jack Ross with 70 minutes gone after a difficult game. Chris Maguire replaced him, and Luke O’Nien moved back into a more defensive position.
Sunderland had a marvellous chance to re-take the lead when McGeady slipped the ball through for Wyke, who was one-on-one with Daniel Iversen. His shot was fired towards the Rotherham goal, but it was blocked by Iversen. Then the follow-up by McGeady was curled narrowly wide of the right post.
At the end of the season, this could be the result that we rue.
Although we don’t have the right to win every game, we slipped off the pace after McGeady’s penalty miss, and I thought that the team almost believed that if they defended, they wouldn’t concede.
Realistically, we haven’t kept a clean sheet all season. I understand that we have been winning but on occasions like Tuesday, this will be when the lack of clean sheets will be criticised. I believe that if we had scored the penalty, then we would have dominated and won by three or four goals.
I don’t know what Jack Ross’ half-time team talk was, but I know for sure that it 100% didn’t work. I know we have still claimed a point and we moved up the table, but we would be more comfortable with 17 points rather than 15.
As Rotherham gained more and more momentum, it was becoming apparent that we would concede, so you just knew that we had to score one more. Unfortunately, this is something we’ve seen Sunderland struggle to do over the course of the last year or so.
Attention now turns to Saturday’s away trip to the University of Bolton Stadium, where we face a Bolton side who are without a win in the seven matches they have played, having managed only two draws.
After having a 12 point deduction at the start of the season, Bolton are on -10 points, and teams like Gillingham, Ipswich and Rotherham have put more than five goals past. We have to follow suit.