Sunderland returned to winning ways by claiming a 2-0 victory against ten-man Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Chris Maguire’s penalty and Lynden Gooch’s strike sealed the three points for the Black Cats, after the Gills missed a spot-kick at the beginning of the second half. This came minutes before Alex MacDonald was shown a red card for a violent challenge on Luke O’Nien.
Phil Parkinson made more changes for Sunderland’s trip back down south to Gillingham, as four players were removed from the starting eleven. The centre-midfield partnership of Power and Dobson were replaced with Scowen and Leadbitter, who were brought back into the side after being placed onto the bench on Tuesday night.
Luke O’Nien returned from suspension, and returned to his right wing-back role, with Conor McLaughlin being pushed back into the centre-back spot, as Dion Sanderson was only fit enough for the bench. Furthermore, Aiden O’Brien came into the side, in the place of Chris Maguire.
First Half Action
Both teams started the first half brightly in the damp and soggy conditions at the Priestfield Stadium, with Gillingham coming the closest to an opening goal when a long, looping ball was drifted into the penalty area; Jordan Graham was able to turn but volleyed it over the bar.
Halfway through the first half, Sunderland did have the ball in the back of the net through a header from Luke O’Nien, only for it to be ruled out. From a free-kick from the left, O’Nien threw himself at the ball and prodded it into the bottom left corner, but he was judged to be in an offside position.
Not long later, Josh Scowen had two chances in a matter of moments when he somehow angled his attempt over the bar from around six yards out after a low cross from O’Nien, before his left-footed shot from just inside of the penalty area was arrowed over the bar.
During the first ‘45, chances came at a minimum, with the Black Cats having the best of the attempts, but no side were able to find the opening goal before half time.
Half Time - Gillingham FC 0-0 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
Around ten minutes into the second half, Gillingham were given an ideal chance to take the lead when they won a spot kick. Jordan Graham fed the ball to Ryan Jackson, who shifted himself into the penalty area and he was tripped by Flanagan on the corner of the area. The referee, Sam Purkiss, deemed the challenge to be a penalty-worthy and pointed to the spot.
Jordan Graham stepped up and aimed the penalty straight at Lee Burge, who punched the ball down to Dominic Samuel, but he could only side-foot it over the bar.
Just moments later, Gillingham were reduced to ten men when the ball dropped for Luke O’Nien, but Alex MacDonald came steaming in and collided with him horrifically. The referee immediately sprinted over and gave MacDonald a dismissal.
Not long after, Josh Scowen had another chance to give Sunderland the lead when the ball was lifted into the penalty area, and O’Brien was tussling with a Gills defender, who both eventually fell to the ground. The ball dropped for Scowen, who side-footed the ball narrowly over the bar.
In the space of ten minutes, Phil Parkinson made two changes with Danny Graham replacing Aiden O’Brien, before Chris Maguire came off the bench for Josh Scowen.
With less than ten minutes of the second half remaining, the referee gave another penalty, but this time it fell the way of the away side. The penalty came when Conor McLaughlin slipped the ball through to Wyke inside of the penalty area, and the Sunderland forward was brought to the ground by Zack Medley.
Gillingham missed their penalty only around 30 minutes before, but Chris Maguire didn’t do the same; he sent the Gillingham goalkeeper the wrong way by tucking the ball into the bottom right corner as he gave Sunderland the lead.
The Black Cats sealed the three points in the fourth minute of injury time, when Lynden Gooch carried the ball from the Sunderland half and sprinted his way into the penalty area, before sliding it underneath the Gillingham goalkeeper.
This late goal sealed the victory for the Black Cats, who stopped their two game winless run, and increased their points tally by three.
Full Time - Gillingham FC 0-2 Sunderland AFC
Pre-match, the rain was firing off the surface of the pitch at the Priestfield Stadium, and the wind was howling around all four stands - providing harsh and dire conditions for a game of football.
For Steve Evans’ Gillingham, this was looking like it was going to benefit them; their long-ball tactic giving the Sunderland defence an issue in the opening 25 minutes of the match, as they struggled to deal with the set pieces from the Gills.
Meanwhile, after the full time whistle, the rain had cleared and a bright sunlight filled the sky - supplying the Priestfield Stadium with a brief piece of remorse after the 90 minutes of battering that the weather gave.
This could have been implying at the brighter spirits that filled the Sunderland camp after a return to winning ways, after two winless games against Portsmouth and Rochdale.
Overall, it took the visitors around 20-25 minutes to get themselves into their main gear, but when they got into their stride, they looked the better side and exposed Gillingham’s lack of confidence at both ends of the pitch.
The lack of chances that the Black Cats had against Pompey and Rochdale seems now to be past. The attacking touch was much brighter as the away side had 19 opportunities, with Josh Scowen spurring at least three cutting-edge chances.
For fans looking in at the result, goals coming in the last fifteen minutes of the game seem to suggest that Sunderland just managed to scrape home against a side that haven’t scored in the last four and conceded seven.
All in all, the red card to Alex MacDonald almost felt like it gave Sunderland the incentive that they had been craving, and as the clock ticked down, fans would have been wondering whether it was just going to be one of those days.
Sometimes, fans have been critical of the changes that Parkinson has made during the matches in League One this season, but the substitution to bring on Graham once the Gills were down to ten men added an extra attacking threat.
The two late goals provided the icing on a very gritty and hard-working performance, one that the Black Cats will need as they move onto Tuesday’s clash with Ipswich Town.
Parkinson will require the opposite performance to the one that they showed against Portsmouth last weekend, but three points added to the Black Cats’ tally, taken off one of our promotion competitors, is something that Parkinson should be looking for on Tuesday.