Sunderland began 2020 with a 1-1 draw against Fleetwood Town at Highbury in League One. Two penalties made the match, with Ched Evans giving the Cod Army the lead with 13 minutes on the clock, before Chris Maguire equalised from the penalty spot with less than five minutes remaining.
The Black Cats stayed 13th in the League One table and are only four points behind the play-off places - meanwhile, Fleetwood rose one place to seventh after Bristol Rovers’ 3-0 defeat to MK Dons.
Phil Parkinson kept with the same team that beat Doncaster Rovers 2-1 at the Keepmoat Stadium, sticking with the same front three of Gooch, Maguire and Wyke. Also, the Sunderland manager kept with three central defenders of Willis, Ozturk and Lynch, with O’Nien and Hume playing as wing-backs in midfield.
First Half Action
With just minutes on the clock, Sunderland were gifted with a huge let-off when the ball was played over the top to Paddy Madden, who attempted to lift it over an onrushing Jon McLaughlin, who then decided to head back to his goal. Madden’s lob was fortunately wide of the right post, but the Black Cats were lucky not to have been one-goal down early on.
After 11 minutes, Fleetwood won themselves a penalty from referee, Anthony Backhouse. The ball bounced around the penalty area, with no one being able to head it away properly. It fell for Wyke, who ran and hammered the ball away, but the referee ultimately thought that he fouled Josh Morris in the process so pointed to the spot.
Ched Evans took the resulting penalty and fired it into the bottom left corner, with Jon McLaughlin diving in the opposite direction.
After that goal, Sunderland began to find their feet and the partnership of Hume and Gooch linked up well when Hume cut into the penalty area on the left wing and played the ball back to Gooch, who controlled it and arrowed it over the bar.
The Black Cats were becoming closer and closer to achieving a leveller when Charlie Wyke picked up the ball inside the penalty area, and set himself up perfectly, but his shot was denied by the Fleetwood goalkeeper.
Narrow margins make matches and only millimetres were between Sunderland and an equaliser. Maguire was threaded through into the penalty area and his effort was slipped under the Fleetwood goalkeeper, but the direction was diverted just wide of the right post.
Second Half Action
Early on in the second half, Sunderland were back on top, and were trying to convert their chances into goals. Chris Maguire’s teasing cross from the right had to be punched away by the Fleetwood goalkeeper, Alex Cairns, otherwise it would have been fired home.
It was looking like it wasn’t Sunderland’s day when Charlie Wyke’s effort hit the post. O’Nien’s cross from the right side of the penalty area picked out Wyke, whose header hit the post, where the angle meant that it bounced away from danger for the visitors.
Another chance came Sunderland’s way when O’Nien’s header from a bullet cross from the left was nodded narrowly wide of the right post.
With 60 minutes on the clock, Fleetwood were enjoying a spell of possession and they were trying to double their advantage from set pieces. Danny Andrew was supplied with space at the back of the penalty area and his volley was palmed away by Jon McLaughlin.
Sunderland were left wondering how they weren’t on level terms with their opponents when Lynden Gooch dribbled the ball to the by-line inside the penalty area and cut it back, where O’Nien was steaming in. The Sunderland wing-back somehow over-powered the shot, with the ball flying over the bar.
With 67 minutes on the clock, Phil Parkinson made his first change in order to try and claim something out of the match. Jordan Willis - who, moments before, picked up a yellow card - was replaced with Duncan Watmore.
Ten minutes later, Parkinson made his second substitution when he brought on another attacking threat in Marc McNulty, with George Dobson making way.
Marc McNulty wasn’t far away from making an instant impact, when his curling shot from just outside of the 18-yard box drifted narrowly wide of the left post.
With 85 minutes gone, after all the attempts the Black Cats had had, they were given an opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot. O’Nien played the ball to Watmore, who dribbled it into the penalty area and was brought down by a Fleetwood man, with the referee pointing to the spot.
Chris Maguire stepped up for the Black Cats and hammered it on target, and Maguire’s penalty had too much pace on for Alex Cairns, who could only palm it into the top left corner. That proved to be the last major action of the match, as the match ended Fleetwood Town 1-1 Sunderland AFC.
What are your New Year’s resolutions for the Black Cats?
Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against play-off candidates, Fleetwood Town, left us four points away from sixth place - so with the club beginning an unbeaten streak, has Phil Parkinson began to turn the tide around at the club? For me, his half-time team talk helped us manoeuvre our way back onto the score-sheet, with Maguire’s penalty.
We began the game in second gear and allowed Fleetwood to control the match, which was unlike what had happened on Sunday in the 2-1 victory over Doncaster.
Personally, I think that it was a harsh decision to give the hosts the penalty with 13 minutes on the clock. After that, I thought that we did really well to get ourselves back into the game and we were unlucky not to have got back on the score-sheet. Then, after half time, Parkinson’s team talk looked like it had worked as we upped the tempo and the passion to claim the three points.
Although we hadn’t scored from all of our opportunities, we deserved the penalty decision and Maguire did well to put enough power on it to send it past the Fleetwood goalkeeper.
Despite not being able to take the three points, the confidence in the team is now building and although the agenda with Donald selling the club occurring off the pitch, the players are now continually putting in a performance and showing lots of character than they have been in recent weeks.
Another game is just around the corner as on Saturday, we take on Lincoln City at the Stadium of Light, in the only League One fixture at the weekend, due to FA Cup action. We know what threats Lincoln pose as they were the last team that Jack Ross faced before he was dismissed from his role. We will be without Laurens de Bock for the rest of the season as he has been sent back to Leeds for “personal reasons”, but now the January transfer window is open, it’s time to strengthen the side for the tough battle that lies ahead in 2020.
With the confidence now building for Parkinson and the Lads, hopefully we can produce a first home victory since early-November.