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Finlay’s Report: Just HOW much of a blow was losing Gooch & Wyke early into Parkinson’s tenure?

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RR’s junior reporter Finlay Anderson is back with his latest write-up of Sunderland’s last game, and he asks: just how much of a blow was it to Phil Parkinson when he lost both Lynden Gooch and Charlie Wyke to injury?

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

An unstoppable effort from Lynden Gooch meant that Sunderland picked up a third successive victory as their promotion push continues.

With 79 minutes on the clock, Gooch fired a magnificent left-footed shot into the top left corner to make sure Sunderland claimed all three points, and kept pace with the top six.

On Saturday, nothing went Sunderland’s way in terms of results. Rotherham produced a spirited second half performance to beat Bristol Rovers 3-0, meaning they stay top of the table, but Ipswich have broken back into the top two, after coming from behind to beat struggling Tranmere 2-1. Burton didn’t play at the weekend, so Sunderland moved back into the top six, with Portsmouth on Sunderland’s heels in 7th.


The Team...

Phil Parkinson made one change to the team that hammered Wycombe Wanderers 4-0 last Saturday. Tom Flanagan picked up a shoulder injury in the first half of that match and was replaced at half time for Joel Lynch, who started in defence at Stadium MK. New addition Kyle Lafferty was placed on the bench, with Will Grigg not being in the squad.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

First Half Action

The game’s first chance fell for the Black Cats and more specifically, Chris Maguire. His shot from outside the penalty area was arrowed over the top of the MK Dons goal.

With less than 12 minutes on the clock, Sunderland probably should have been into a one goal advantage. Maguire’s cross was played across goal by Luke O’Nien, but the touch from Alim Ozturk diverted the ball wide of the left post.

One of MK Dons’ biggest chances of the opening stages came via Rhys Healey. He was played through on goal, but unfortunately for Russell Martin’s side, he slipped the ball wide of the post.

After 26 minutes, George Dobson was required to play the rest of the game with a yellow card to his name, after picking up his seventh booking of the season for a challenge of David Kasumu.

At half time, both sides went in goalless - with chances coming at a premium, but no side was able to take the lead.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Second Half Action

At the beginning of the second half, the visitors had two huge opportunities to take the lead when the ball dropped for Gooch inside the penalty area, but his shot was blocked on the line by Callum Brittain, and then a follow-up from Charlie Wyke was again blocked on the line, but this time by George Williams.

Sunderland had the pick of the chances at the start of the second half and another Chris Maguire free-kick almost put the Black Cats into the driving seat for the three points. From around the same area as the one he scored from last weekend, his free-kick produced a brilliant diving save by Lee Nicholls.

With 76 minutes on the clock, Phil Parkinson made his first substitution, by bringing on Kyle Lafferty for his first minutes in a Sunderland shirt, with Charlie Wyke the one who was removed from the game.

Moments after Lafferty’s introduction, the Black Cats took the lead - but it wasn’t the Irishman who gave the Black Cats the advantage, it was the American, Lynden Gooch. From a short free-kick, Power tapped the ball to Gooch, who, on the left wing, cut inside and a little dribble allowed him into a shooting position. When he did shoot, what a spectacular effort it was! He arrowed an unstoppable effort into the top left corner of the MK Dons goal.

With just over five minutes remaining, Sunderland should have doubled their advantage when Lafferty’s volley to the back post was somehow nodded over the bar by Alim Ozturk, who was afforded acres of space just a few yards out.

After four minutes of additional time, the referee blew his full time whistle; the match ending MK Dons 0-1 Sunderland AFC.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict....

Was Sunderland’s dip in form during November and December due the absence of players like Lynden Gooch and Charlie Wyke?

With 79 minutes on the clock, it was tight and it did feel as though it would take something special to settle the game. The Black Cats had the best chances throughout the match, but lacked a goal-scoring touch. That was until Lynden Gooch struck an absolute rocket into the top left corner. The travelling Sunderland fans were sent into delirium, knowing that, that may be the match winner.

In truth, MK Dons hadn’t really threatened the Sunderland goal apart from a few occasions in the first half, but they never looked like they would level the game in the last 10 minutes. It was clear on what Russell Martin had been working on with his team in the build-up to Saturday’s match.

In Sunderland’s last two games they’ve been quick out of the blocks and sealed the victory within the opening 30 minutes, so MK Dons were hoping that they wouldn’t be demolished within the first half. Yes, Sunderland’s last two games were at home, but you still need to acknowledge how the hosts limited the amount of time and space the Black Cats had on the ball and the tempo that they play with. In the end, their resilience came to nothing, but if it wasn’t for a moment of quality from Sunderland’s American, they may have received a reward for their defensive work.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

At the moment for Sunderland though, they will take a win however they come. A win with quality and free-flowing football or a sloppy win - they all count for the same thing, three points. Although the travelling Black Cats fans may have wanted to see a similar performance to the 4-0 thrashing of Wycombe, they still keep chase with the top six. Only five points separate Oxford United in fifth and Bristol Rovers in 13th, so to keep picking up three points is Phil Parkinson’s object, and he has Lynden Gooch to thank for the win.

Focus now turns to a Friday night showdown with Doncaster Rovers in front of the Sky Sports cameras. If the Black Cats carry on the way they have been performing and keep the same tempo as the last two home games, there should be no reason why another three points isn’t on the way.

The visitors come to the Stadium of Light in brilliant form. They may have lost by a single goal against Coventry on Saturday, but since they were defeated by the Black Cats in the last game of 2019, they beat Oxford United, Shrewsbury and Bristol Rovers and conceded no goals. Despite being in 9th, Darren Moore’s side see no reason why they can’t break into the play-offs.

Four points off Sunderland in sixth with a game in hand, a Donny win will put them within one point, but a home win will extend our advantage to seven, so it’s all to play for.