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Finlay’s Report: “Can Sunderland still achieve promotion? What will it take for us to do it?”

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RR’s junior reporter Finlay Anderson is back with his rundown of the Lincoln victory, and asks “can Sunderland still get promoted and, if so, what will it take for them to achieve it?”

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sunderland produced a well-earned and well-needed three points against Lincoln City at the Stadium of Light to tighten the gap between the Black Cats and the play-off places to just one point.

Three quick-fire goals in the space of around 10 minutes made sure that Sunderland claim three points for the first time on Wearside in two months.

A brace from Lynden Gooch and a header from Tom Flanagan put Sunderland into a three-goal advantage, but it wasn’t fully secure as Lincoln got a goal back in the second half through Tyler Walker.

With it being FA Cup third round weekend, Sunderland v Lincoln was the only League One match, so the Black Cats climbed to ninth, just one point away from Peterborough in 6th. Sunderland are just nine points away from Wycombe in first, but that gap could close to just six with a game in hand if the Black Cats beat the Chairboys next Saturday at the Stadium of Light.


The Team...

Phil Parkinson made one change to the team that drew 1-1 with Fleetwood Town on New Year’s Day at Highbury. The change was forced upon Parkinson as Joel Lynch was unavailable with an illness, so Tom Flanagan replaced him in the centre of defence. Charlie Wyke was able to start the match, after battling illness before the game, with Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch also starting alongside him up top.

Oxford United v Sunderland AFC - Carabao Cup Round of 16 Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

First Half Action

From the off the game was stretched, with both sides having chances at the top end of the pitch. Sunderland’s Chris Maguire curled his left-footed shot around the left post, before a vital interception from Tom Flanagan made sure that Jack Payne couldn’t pull the trigger from a few yards out.

Tom Flanagan helped Sunderland at both ends of the pitch, as after producing that crucial block, he nodded the Black Cats into a one-goal lead. Maguire’s corner from the left pin-pointed Flanagan, who was able to head the ball into the top right corner.

Michael Appleton set up his side to play out from the back, and they paid the price from a ruthless Sunderland side. Goalkeeper, Josh Vickers, made a costly error when he attempted to chip the ball over Maguire, who was closing him down, and it bounced off the head of the Scotsman and fell for Gooch, who pounced and nodded the ball into the back of an empty net.

If one error from Lincoln wasn’t enough, it was made even worse as another mistake from the Lincoln backline made it three-nil for the Black Cats. A long kick up from Jon McLaughlin’s goal kick was looking as if it was going to be headed back downfield from Imps captain, Jason Shackell, but, he completely missed the clearance. It gave Lynden Gooch the perfect opportunity as he was one-on-one with the Lincoln goalkeeper, and he tucked the ball into the bottom left corner.

The hosts were close to having a fourth before half time when Maguire’s free-kick was met by the head of Jordan Willis, who rose the highest, but his header was tipped over the bar by the Lincoln goalkeeper, Josh Vickers.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Second Half Action

After the half time interval Sunderland came back out and went into second gear, allowing Lincoln a way back into the game.

Sunderland’s first change of the game came with 64 minutes on the clock, as Duncan Watmore replaced Chris Maguire, adding extra energy and width at the top of the pitch.

Only minutes after this switch, Lincoln controversially paved their selves a route back into the match. Denver Hume was out-muscled by Harry Anderson on the right side of the penalty area. This allowed Anderson to take a shot, which wriggled its way under Jon McLaughlin and then controversy struck. The ball was looking like it was heading into the bottom left corner, but to make sure it did, Tyler Walker tapped it home. There were calls from the Sunderland camp that it was offside, but the officials still gave the goal for the Imps.

Lincoln’s tails were up after this and piled pressure on the Black Cats, looking for another goal, which would half the deficit. From Jorge Grant’s corner, Cian Bolger’s header flew wide of the left post.

Max Power has scored two outstanding efforts so far this season against Sheffield United and MK Dons, and almost scored a third. He received the ball from around 35 yards out and then carried it a few yards and arrowed one goal wards, but it smashed off the top of the crossbar.

In attempt to keep hold of their advantage, Parkinson brought on experience in Grant Leadbitter, with Lynden Gooch making way.

During injury time, the Black Cats’ lead never looked under threat, with the match ending - after four added minutes - Sunderland AFC 3-1 Lincoln.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict....

Do you still believe that Sunderland can claim promotion and if so, what do you think the Black Cats need to do if they want to achieve this?

With 29 minutes on the clock, Phil Parkinson stood in his dugout, watching Sunderland put a third past Lincoln, emotionless. Inside, he must be feeling some sort of joy.

The past few performances from the Black Cats have been building up to this and it all unravelled into a superb first half performance. Although the second half wasn’t quite the same, Parkinson and everyone surrounding the Black Cats must be ecstatic with the three points.

After all the turmoil and negativity over the festive period, things are looking bright for the Black Cats once again. One point away from the play-off places and nine away from top. Despite nine points looking like a lot, things can change next weekend and that could shorten to six and the Black Cats have a game in hand. Win that and the gap is only three.

With League One shaping up to being unpredictable, Sunderland could be back in the automatic promotion mix at any point. So, things are looking up for Parkinson and the Lads.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

In the first half on Saturday, the Black Cats did everything right. They pressed and forced errors from Lincoln, which were the reasons for two of Sunderland’s three goals. Sunderland attacked with purpose and had lots of chances to extend their lead to four or five.

They showed the tempo and character that we haven’t seen in recent home performance, but in the second half, it felt like they were back to their usual ways. Maybe, it was fatigue from the festive period or perhaps, they felt like they needed to keep hold of the three points and didn’t want to attack in bundles, leaving the defence wide open for a Lincoln counter attack.

Whatever it was, it still managed to gain three points for Parkinson’s rejuvenated side.

On Saturday, they face the biggest test of Parkinson’s reign so far - a home match against Wycombe. If the Black Cats play like they did in the first half against Lincoln, I can see no problem why we can’t claim all three points.

At some points at the weekend I thought that our backline looked a bit shaky, but with a week’s worth of training, that should be worked on and cemented for the visit of Wycombe. As previously mentioned, win and the gap closes to six points; lose and the gap extends to 12 points. It is now or never for the Black Cats, so hopefully they can take the opportunity by the scruff of the neck.