Sunderland claimed yet another three points on Tuesday night in League One, as they beat Crewe Alexandra 1-0 at the Stadium of Light.
The goal just before the half time interval, which may yet go down as Charlie Wyke’s second goal of the season or an own goal, was the pivotal moment of the game, with the Black Cats continuing their sublime defensive form.
Phil Parkinson made one change to the side that beat Swindon Town 2-0 at the County Ground on Saturday afternoon. Denver Hume returned to the side after missing out at the weekend with an injury, but Jordan Willis missed out on facing Crewe after suffering an impact injury at the weekend. Both Charlie Wyke and Chris Maguire retained their places after netting against Swindon, giving them a chance to impress yet again.
First Half Action
The opening period of game was sloppy and chaotic where both teams cancelled each other out. The best opportunity in the first quarter of the game came when Maguire fed the ball into Wyke’s feet on the edge of the box, who turned, but arrowed his shot over the bar.
Sunderland continued to put the pressure on Crewe, and came closer to opening the scoring when Maguire’s free-kick from around 25 yards out was whipped just wide of the right post.
With each attack, the hosts were looking that more and more threatening, with their latest effort coming when the impressive Lynden Gooch went on a driving run from deep into a shooting position, but his shot dipped onto the roof of the net.
Sunderland’s control on the game was beginning to take its toll on the visitors, with the Crewe backline allowing the Black Cats more space and this resulted in Max Power being fed through into the penalty area, but his shot was blasted straight into the gloves of Will Jaaskelainen.
Being able creating the opportunities get a shot off wasn’t one of Sunderland’s weaknesses in the first half, but the end product was, as the hosts couldn’t convert their chances into goals. When Maguire’s long-range effort was looking like it was heading past the Crewe goalkeeper, Omar Beckles stood in the way to provide a shield to the Crewe goal - forcing the ball to deflect wide of the right post.
Just before half time, Sunderland’s persistence paid off when they took the lead. Gooch’s teasing cross from the right was met by a combination of the eager Charlie Wyke and the attempted clearance by Luke Offord, and found its way past the Crewe goalkeeper at the far post. As the half time whistle went moments later, it was advantage Sunderland.
Half Time - Sunderland 1 - 0 Crewe Alexandra
Second Half Action
At the start of the second half, Crewe were being able to create more chances, but Sunderland still provided a threat when they went forward. Max Power had a chance double the hosts’ advantage when the ball dropped for the midfielder to sprint onto after good work by Hume down the left, but saw his shot sail well over the bar.
Sunderland continued to create chances as the second half progressed and the best of them came from a Josh Scowen free-kick. As the ball was whipped into the penalty area from the right wing, Bailey Wright found space from around four yards out, but his header went straight into the ground and agonisingly looped over the bar
Chance after chance came and went for Phil Parkinson’s side, but they couldn’t double their advantage. When space opened up for Lynden Gooch after dribbling the ball into the penalty area, he unleashed a shot from the centre of the penalty area, only to see his shot smack off the face of the Crewe goalkeeper.
Phil Parkinson made his first change of the evening with just under 20 minutes of normal time remaining, with Aiden O’Brien replacing Chris Maguire.
This was shortly followed by the hosts’ second and third substitution with George Dobson and Tom Flanagan both coming on - providing the Black Cats with fresh legs as they looked to hold onto their lead, with Josh Scowen and Lynden Gooch the ones to make way.
In the very late stages of the second half, Crewe began to pile more pressure onto the Black Cats, but after four minutes of injury time, the referee blew the full time whistle, with Charlie Wyke’s goal in first half stoppage time separating the two sides.
Full Time - Sunderland 1 - 0 Crewe Alexandra
There was a time in the not so distant past where Sunderland were defensively fragile. Sunderland lacked to make crucial defensive judgements and for that, they conceded silly goals that could have easily been avoided.
Now, it seems like a breath of fresh air as Phil Parkinson has installed a solid defensive unit that is keeping clean sheets and producing brilliant defensive performances week in, week out.
It has been well noted the impact that Bailey Wright has had on the team, but the use of the makeshift defensive partnership that Parkinson has to stick with over the last week has to be applauded.
Luke O’Nien is normally a right wing-back, but at the centre-back role, he looks like he has been playing there for all of his career. The same has to be said for Conor McLaughlin, who has shown that he is able to be called upon when required.
Over the past two games, both Swindon Town and Crewe haven’t provided a strenuous test of the Sunderland backline, like the likes of Portsmouth and Ipswich will, but the confidence is bouncing around the Sunderland camp, in all positions.
On Tuesday night, Crewe were mostly wanting to hold onto a point that they started with, but they were unable to live with a Sunderland side who were always a class above the newly promoted side.
Next up, Sunderland face one of the biggest tests of the season so far as they take on Portsmouth with the rivalry between both teams being renewed. Kenny Jackett’s side have had mixed fortunes at the beginning of this season - winning three, drawing two and losing two. Despite this form, everyone knows the threat that Portsmouth brings, with John Marquis, Ronan Curtis and Marcus Harness all looking to be one of the first players to unlock the Sunderland backline in the league.
Analysis of the stats of Tuesday night’s game, fans would have been wondering at why they were only able to score once, when they had twenty shots on target. Three points could have been sealed by half time, but hopefully they left their shooting boots for Saturday’s clash against Portsmouth at the Stadium of Light.