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Finlay’s Report: Rochdale 2-2 SAFC - Parky under pressure? Gills game is now massive!

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“Sunderland’s failure to win at Rochdale makes Saturday’s game all the more important - just how crucial is it now that we beat Gillingham at the weekend?” asks RR’s junior reporter Finlay Anderson.

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Visionhaus

Sunderland dropped behind the promotion pack as they were pegged back twice, as the Black Cats were only able to claim a point against Rochdale at the Crown Oil Arena.

Goals from Charlie Wyke and Bailey Wright put Sunderland in front twice, but two goals from Matty Lund meant sure that the hosts took a point out of the game.


The Team...

Phil Parkinson rang the changes after Sunderland’s 3-1 defeat against Portsmouth on Saturday, by making four alternations for the Black Cats’ trip to the Crown Oil Arena.

Dion Sanderson was handed his debut in the red-and-white strips of Sunderland, partnering both Bailey Wright and Tom Flanagan, who returned to the starting 11.

Luke O’Nien picked up a dismissal on Saturday in their defeat, so Conor McLaughlin replaced him on the wing. Also, George Dobson returned to the side after being left out of it since his red card in the opening day of the season.

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

First Half Action

Rochdale began the game in a comfortable way, enjoying lots of the early possession and looked the most likely side to break the deadlock when Oliver Rathbone’s shot from just outside the penalty area took a deflection off the out-stretched leg of Dion Sanderson, and dropped into the gloves of Lee Burge.

Despite all the early pressure from the hosts, Charlie Wyke extended his goal-scoring tally by netting yet again when Gooch drove at the left wing and found himself a crossing position, as he whipped the ball into the area, with Wyke waiting to pounce and to nod it past the Rochdale goalkeeper.

Around ten minutes later, Rochdale found an equaliser through Matty Lund’s third goal of the League One season when Alex Newby sailed a cross into the penalty area, where Lund came pacing in to direct the ball into the bottom right corner.

The home side looked for a second goal to put themselves into the lead, and almost found it when Morley’s cross from a corner from the right-hand side found its way to Jake Beesley, whose shot was ushered just over the crossbar.

That second goal did come not long after, but it came the way of the away side when Maguire’s free-kick from just over 20 yards out was punched away by the Rochdale goalkeeper, but it dropped to Gooch. He chipped it back into the penalty area, and the deflection allowed Wright to nod the ball towards goal. The ball somehow slipped under the goalkeeper and rolled into the bottom right corner.

Only moments later, Rochdale found a route level when Alex Newby’s cross from the right was drifted into the penalty area and a collision between George Dobson and Dion Sanderson allowed the ball to be tapped to Lund, who fired it past Lee Burge, to make it two-two.

Half Time - Rochdale AFC 2-2 Sunderland AFC

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Second Half Action

Sunderland began the second half in a more optimistic manner and were close to retaking the lead when Maguire fizzed a low cross across the face of goal, but neither Charlie Wyke nor Lynden Gooch could connect with the ball.

The away team looked the more threatening in scoring the fifth goal of the game, and were trying to create an opening when Conor McLaughlin’s cross from the right pin-pointed Wyke, whose header was weak and was directed straight into the gloves of Gavin Bazunu.

Another opportunity fell the way of Sunderland when Gooch’s left-footed shot from long range was arrowed straight into the gloves of the Rochdale goalkeeper, who looked unfazed.

With 75 minutes on the clock, Phil Parkinson freshened up the midfield by bringing on Josh Scowen, for Chris Maguire.

A couple of minutes after this change, Sunderland knocked on the Rochdale door yet again when Wyke’s header was aimed towards the goal, but the Dale goalkeeper was able to claw it away, but only to Gooch, who was able to feed it back to Hume. Hume’s low attempt seemed to be dragged wide of the right post.

Sunderland’s second substitution was made with only eight minutes of the game left with a straight swap up front with Danny Graham coming on for Charlie Wyke.

The Black Cats’ best chance of the second half arguably came closer to the 90-minute mark when the ball was laid off for Max Power, whose right-footed shot was hammered down off the crossbar, and fell for Graham, but his header was grabbed with two hands by the Rochdale goalkeeper.

During the five minutes of injury time, the away side weren’t able to orchestrate another meaningful effort, with Sunderland being left to travel back up north with only a point.

Full Time - Rochdale AFC 2-2 Sunderland AFC

Rochdale v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Visionhaus

Finlay’s Verdict...

A couple of weeks ago, Sunderland persisted with an inconsistent forward line.

Both Charlie Wyke, Danny Graham and Will Grigg were given multiple chances to stake a claim to lead the attack, but it seems like Wyke has been the one that has grabbed the shirt by the scruff of the neck.

Although Wyke hasn’t been everyone’s favourite striker, he has netted five in the last five matches in all competitions, albeit one was controversially gifted to him, although it seemed like an own goal against Crewe Alexandra.

For most of them goals, he seems to be at the right place at the right time, but he is very much able to convert chances into goals.

Meanwhile, it seems quite a contrast to the way that Sunderland have been playing in these games and how they have been creating the chances.

Against Portsmouth, the Black Cats were only able to muster up one effort on target, much to the disappointment of Phil Parkinson, as in that match, they were very much unable to get a foothold in the game.

On Tuesday night at the Crown Oil Arena, the Black Cats had more of the possession, but they were simply unable to provide the correct service to the attackers and the space didn’t seem to appear.

Maybe this was Rochdale’s defence trying to stay strong and claim a result against one of the promotion favourites come the start of the season, or it could be the weakness in attack from Phil Parkinson’s team.

Overall, to claim a one-all draw against Rochdale is very much disappointing, with victories against teams like Rochdale, something that the Black Cats should be looking to claim if they are wanting to achieve promotion.

The defensive errors for the Rochdale goals - allowing Lund a free header for the first and making a mess of clearing it for the second - could be a sign of an inconsistent defensive line. Dion Sanderson made his debut and had only made 10 appearances for Cardiff last season.

In the next couple of games, a consistent backline is something that Parkinson should be looking at as, during the period of clean sheets that we produced a couple of weeks ago, the back-three of Flanagan, Wright and Willis were a permanent feature.

On Saturday, the Black Cats return to the road, as we travel south to Gillingham on Saturday afternoon. Over the years, fixtures against Gillingham have most often been very tight, and with both sides form over the last two weeks, I would expect the same at the weekend.

After scoring again on Tuesday, Charlie Wyke would be expected to start yet again, but I wouldn’t rule out further rotations in the midfield area and in attack. Hopefully whoever comes into the side is able to play a role in three points being added to the Sunderland tally for the season.