A late, late strike from Fejiri Okenabirhie salvaged a point for Doncaster Rovers - stopping Sunderland from taking three points back up north.
Grant Leadbitter’s thunderbolt had meant that Sunderland were looking comfortable for three points, but the Black Cats were unable to clear their lines and the Doncaster striker was able to bundle the ball home.
Phil Parkinson made three changes to the side that dropped three points against MK Dons last weekend. Conor McLaughlin and Tom Flanagan returned to the squad after missing the game last week due to being out on international duty. Max Power dropped to the bench, but had a larger opportunity to being brought on, with the new law of five substitutes being allowed. Also, Chris Maguire replaced Will Grigg in the Sunderland attack, with Charlie Wyke also retaining his place.
First Half Action
Both sides had an even share of the possession during the opening twenty minutes, but Sunderland had one of the first opportunities of the game when O’Nien’s header from the centre of the penalty area after Scowen’s right-footed delivery, was directed over the top of the crossbar.
The Black Cats looked the more threatening side and Conor McLaughlin was having his fair share of space of the right wing, and from one of his deliveries, Maguire’s arrowing shot bounced into the gloves of Joe Lumley.
Sunderland had a clear penalty appeal in the 28th minute when Gooch cut inside into the centre of the penalty area, but was bundled to the ground by Joe Wright, but the referee declined to provide the Black Cats with a spot kick.
Phil Parkinson would have been content with what he had witnessed in the first half, with Conor McLaughlin coming the closest to giving the away side the lead. Scowen’s cross from the right was diverted goal wards by McLaughlin, but the Doncaster goalkeeper, Joe Lumley, collided the ball away from danger.
Pressure began to mount onto the Doncaster backline, and that pressure finally tolled when a sensational strike from Grant Leadbitter gave the Black Cats the lead. When Gooch lay the ball off for the Sunderland midfielder, he only had one thing in his mind and he managed to drill the ball high into the top left corner.
Leadbitter’s strike was one of the final moments of the first half, with that brilliant goal giving the Black Cats the advantage at the interval.
Half Time - Doncaster Rovers 0-1 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
Doncaster began the second half with a more attacking intent drilled into them by Darren Moore at half time, and almost equalised when the ball dropped for Jason Lokilo, who arrowed it just wide of the right post.
Darren Moore would have been more impressed with his side than he was in the first half, as they began to cause Sunderland some problems when a low ball from Matthew Smith carved Sunderland’s defence into two, as Okenabirhie had space inside of the penalty, but he turned and slid it into the gloves of Remi Matthews.
Sunderland did still provide a threat on the attack and a three-v-two situation for Sunderland gave them a clear opportunity to double their lead, but Gooch’s shot from inside of the penalty area was blocked by Brad Halliday.
The Black Cats made their first substitution of the match when Elliot Embleton was provided with his first league minutes, as he replaced Chris Maguire.
Elliot Embleton was thrown straight into the match action, and he almost wrote his name onto the score sheet as his long-range effort was directed just wide of the left post.
One minute into additional time, Phil Parkinson made his second change of the game when Max Power replaced Lynden Gooch.
With thirty seconds left of the game, Sunderland’s three points were ripped from their grasps, as Doncaster managed to salvage a point. Halliday turned Tom Flanagan and made space for himself inside of the penalty area. He played a low cross into the penalty area, but Bailey Wright failed to clear his lines. The ball dropped for Okenabirhie, who somehow managed to roll it past Remi Matthews.
That goal from Okenabirhie made sure that Doncaster were able to take a point, but Sunderland were left to travel up north with only a point.
Full Time - Doncaster Rovers 1-1 Sunderland AFC
Thirty seconds separated Sunderland and three points against a Doncaster side that lacked in clear-cut chances.
How the equaliser came about was contrasted with the way that the Sunderland backline had conducted themselves throughout the whole of the 90 minutes. But, a football game doesn’t last 90 minutes; you have got to keep playing until the final whistle.
A lapse in concentration from the defence may be pivotal come May with two points being the difference between promotion and the play-offs.
For the whole of the game before the 90+2nd minute, it had been one of the most impressive performances of the season - it may have been the lack of an attacking threat from Doncaster or it may have been the way that the Black Cats were set up to play.
Before the game, the new law of five substitutes was installed into League One, but the lack of changes from the manager will leave fans frustrated, as they had players on the bench who have goals in them, which could have sealed the victory.
As already mentioned, a game lasts from the first minute to the very last, so it doesn’t matter how long you play well for, you must do it for the whole of the game.
The one-one draw will over-shadow the game, with the confidence and momentum that was built up before the equaliser being abolished.
The result leaves Sunderland eighth in the League One table, with Fleetwood leap-frogging the Black Cats - the team whom Phil Parkinson’s side will take on, on Friday night. Overall, the confidence will be very low, but the manager needs to motivate the players to continue their impressive display that fans saw for most of the match on Saturday. Changes may have to be made for another consecutive game, but the players who do play will have to put in a desired performance to try and claim three points.