Phil Parkinson’s first year in charge of Sunderland was marked with a 2-0 victory over Swindon Town at The County Ground on Saturday afternoon.
Chris Maguire’s penalty sealed the three points after Charlie Wyke’s strike in the 37th minute had put the team into the driving seat.
Here’s how the action unfolded.
The Line Up
Phil Parkinson made four changes to the side that played out a goalless draw at The Valley against Lee Bowyer’s Charlton Athletic two weeks ago. Tom Flanagan was suspended for the Black Cats’ trip to the County Ground, with Conor McLaughlin coming in for his first game since Sunderland’s 1-0 defeat against Gillingham in December 2019. McLaughlin started at right wing-back with O’Nien dropping back to central defence.
Charlie Wyke led the line, with Chris Maguire also returning to the side after injury saw him miss the last League One match. Sunderland had a very attacking bench, with Will Grigg, Danny Graham and Aiden O’Brien being available to being brought on if they were required.
First Half Action
Sunderland began the first half in positive fashion after the international break; Josh Scowen’s early effort being deflected just wide of the post.
Against Peterborough United a couple of weeks ago Grant Leadbitter netted his first goal since his return, and almost doubled his tally for the season with a creative effort. From around 40 yards out, the Sunderland midfielder tried to chip the ball over the goalkeeper from a free-kick, but Kovar was able to tip it around the left post.
With around 20 minutes on the clock, Phil Parkinson was forced into making his first change when Jordan Willis was unable to carry on with an injury, so Jack Diamond replaced him. Conor McLaughlin was pushed back into a centre-back role with Diamond playing as a right wing-back.
Just under 10 minutes before half time, Sunderland’s pressure paid off when Swindon Town fell apart defensively. Gooch’s cross from the left was aimed into acres of open space, which Wyke was attracted into. The Swindon players seemed to be repelled away from the big striker, standing still and allowing Wyke to side-foot the ball into the bottom right corner.
At the half time interval, Phil Parkinson’s side held a one-goal advantage.
Second Half Action
Early on in the second half, Swindon thought that they should have had a penalty when Luke O’Nien stood in the way of Matty Smith’s run inside of the 18-yard box. The referee waved away the appeals, much to the displeasure of the Swindon bench. Replays show they had a good case.
Moments later the referee did point to the spot – at the other end of the field.
Power’s threaded ball found Maguire on the right wing and the Scot made his way into the penalty area, cutting inside, before being grounded by Jonathan Grounds’ lunging slide tackle.
Maguire picked himself up and dispatched the spot-kick past the keeper, firing the ball straight down the middle.
Swindon Town knew they had a mountain to climb if they were going to get anything from the game, but could have halved the deficit when Jack Payne’s cross was whipped into the penalty area. Baudry connected with the ball, but his header was diverted wide of the left post.
Sunderland tried to build on their two-goal cushion and seek a third when Power fed the ball to his fellow midfielder, Josh Scowen, whose right-footed shot was easily grasped by the Swindon Town goalkeeper.
As the game neared full-time, Parkinson made another substitution by bringing on Aiden O’Brien, in the place of goalscorer Maguire – O’Brien barely had the chance to get involved before the referee brought the game to a close.
Saturday marked Phil Parkinson’s first year in charge of the Black Cats, and his time at the club is best viewed in two parts – before Christmas and after Christmas.
Up until the festive period there was a feeling of despair and frustration among fans, as Parkinson was just beginning to stamp his vision onto the side.
From Christmas, it was a revival of sorts, as the Black Cats were able to climb the table with convincing victories over Doncaster Rovers and Wycombe Wanderers helping to revitalise the atmosphere at the Stadium of Light.
Parkinson will probably have believed that the last game before the UK’s national COVID-19 lockdown was unfortunate for him, as Sunderland’s 2-0 defeat against Bristol Rovers stuck in the minds of Wearsiders for a long time.
From 14 December to the premature end of the campaign, however, Sunderland had only lost three games, with two of them coming away from home against Portsmouth and points-per-game champions Coventry.
The lockdown provided time for Parkinson to rethink his approach for the return of football and the pre-season would have definitely helped to create an optimistic spirit around the club. Indeed, since that Gillingham defeat in mid-December, we’ve now played 25 games, winning 14, drawing 8 and losing 3.
Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Swindon Town would have been the epitome of what Parkinson is looking out of his players – a team that is able to adapt to all surroundings and still produce a brilliant performance that claimed three points.
The defence stayed as a whole unit despite the troubles that were imposed onto the side before kickoff and during the match.
After starting the season looking very solid defensively, the loss of Flanagan and Xhemajli for this game may have had fans worried but, in truth, Swindon didn’t really provide any threat.
The contrast between the Sunderland defensive unit and the Swindon backline was massive – Wyke was somehow able to side-foot the ball into the corner in acres of space from a couple of yards out.
Games are now coming thick and fast with Sunderland facing Crewe on Tuesday night, where change is likely to be expected again.
Flanagan will most likely return at the heart of defence and the new addition, Dion Sanderson, may also feature for part of the game if there is no more defensive cover.
Charlie Wyke scored on Saturday and should be able to keep his place, unless he needs to be rotated for fitness issues, but Grigg and Graham will be able to be at Parkinson’s disposal if required.
Hopefully, we will be able to continue our unbeaten run in League One to boost the confidence ahead of Saturday’s visit of Portsmouth.