Sunderland managed to snatch a vital three points to keep chase with the pace-setters in League One, winning 1-0 against ten-man Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park.
A header from Charlie Wyke with 60 minutes on the clock made sure that Sunderland closed the gap on the top six, after they dropped to 7th, due to Tuesday night’s results.
The Black Cats moved back to fifth in the League One table, ahead of Coventry and Portsmouth, who they face on Saturday afternoon at Fratton Park.
Phil Parkinson gave Bailey Wright his Sunderland debut in the only change of the team after Friday night’s goalless draw with Doncaster. Alim Ozturk dropped out of the side, with Wright fitting into the back-three. New signing Josh Scowen was on the bench, with Duncan Watmore unavailable after picking up a knock last week.
First Half Action
An early chance came in the way of the Black Cats and their new signing, Bailey Wright, with the Australian almost scoring on his debut. Maguire floated a ball to the back post from a free-kick to Joel Lynch, who nodded it across the face of goal, where Wright was waiting. The central-defender, unfortunately for the visitors, touched it over the bar.
With 23 minutes on the clock, George Dobson received his eighth yellow card in the league this season when he clattered Jake Caprice near the halfway line in front of both dugouts.
Despite being in the bottom three, Tranmere had their moments in the first half and Kane Wilson almost scored from a free-kick halfway through the opening 45. From just outside the penalty area on the left, Wilson’s curling shot was pushed away by Jon McLaughlin.
After the additional minute on added time was up, the lacklustre first half ended Tranmere 0-0 Sunderland.
Second Half Action
At the start of the second half Sunderland began to play with more urgency, and from a set-piece they took the lead on the hour mark. Maguire chipped a ball into the penalty area from the right wing to the front post - a glance of the head from Charlie Wyke diverted the ball cleverly into the bottom right corner to give the big striker his fourth League One goal of the season.
Within a 15 minute period Tranmere used all three of their substitutions, bringing on more attacking options. Paul Mullin, Stefan Payne and Harvey Gilmour were all brought on for the hosts in an attempt to claw something from the match.
Tranmere were reduced to ten men when Manny Monthe was shown a second yellow card. After being booked ten minutes previous, he brought down George Dobson, when the Sunderland midfielder was counter-attacking. The referee - Anthony Coggins - dismissed the Tranmere defender for the remaining six minutes.
Just before the ninety was up, Phil Parkinson made his first change by giving Josh Scowen his first minutes in a Sunderland shirt, with Chris Maguire being replaced.
After five minutes of added time was ended, Charlie Wyke’s header proved to be the winner as the match ended Tranmere Rovers 0-1 Sunderland AFC.
How vital will those three points be at the end of the season?
Before the match, the talking point between many fans was the state of the pitch at Prenton Park. After three home matches at Prenton Park in the space of nine days, the quality of the pitch did not suit the style of game that the Black Cats play, but still they managed to grind out a victory just when it was needed. On Sunday, Manchester United were faced with a similar issue in the FA Cup, but arguably the pitch was worse on Wednesday night, and the Black Cats were still able to pull themselves through with three points in the bag.
Wednesday night’s win wasn’t a classic, but at the end of the season it could be one of the most important. If we had lost here, then the gap between Sunderland and Portsmouth in sixth would have stuck at two after Pompey’s 2-0 win over Lincoln on Tuesday night. Then, the big clash at Fratton Park would have became even more crucial for the Black Cats to win.
Just like in Sunderland’s last two matches, the opposition were mindful of the threats that the Black Cats can pose in the first half of games, and tried to stop them from getting the ball down and playing. Even if it wasn’t Tranmere’s fault, the pitch certainly did do that, but in the end Sunderland were still able to claim three points and at the current point in League One, that is all that matters. In the second half, the goal came from an increase in the tempo of our play and Wyke’s header was brilliantly disposed past the keeper.
Now, Phil Parkinson faces one of the biggest tests as Sunderland manager; a trip to Fratton Park to face Pompey. In front of a sold out crowd, the relationship between Portsmouth and Sunderland will be renewed, with this being the seventh time both teams have met in just over a year.
There is no covering how tough this will be. Confidence is riding high in Kenny Jackett’s side; they are on a seven-game winning run and are into the fifth round of the FA Cup with a home tie against Arsenal approaching.
All three of Sunderland’s central-defenders will need to be wary of the attacking threats that the hosts will pose, but let’s hope that we can take something from Fratton Park.