Sunderland have claimed a crucial three points in the promotion picture, as they beat Ipswich Town 2-1 at the Stadium of Light.
Goals from Charlie Wyke and a Grant Leadbitter penalty were sandwiched in between Jack Lancaster’s equaliser and a red card for Andre Dozzell, as the three points meant sure that Sunderland kept up with the early pace-setters.
Phil Parkinson made one change to the side that beat Gillingham by two goals at the weekend, with Chris Maguire, who netted the penalty on Saturday, coming back into the side, with Aiden O’Brien dropping to the bench.
Conor McLaughlin continued his role in the centre of defence as the back three looked to make another clean sheet against second-placed Ipswich Town. Meanwhile, Josh Scowen and Grant Leadbitter partnered each other in midfield, with Scowen missing a number of chances at the weekend to extend Sunderland’s lead.
First Half Action
The Black Cats began the match in the same manner as they had left off against Gillingham on Saturday, and found an early reward through Charlie Wyke’s seventh goal of the season. Gooch was able to slip the ball through to Wyke, with Mark McGuinness unable to clear it away from danger. Wyke had time to pick his spot and side-foot the ball into the bottom left corner.
As the game progressed, the home side looked to push for a second goal to feel more comfortable, and almost doubled their lead when Hume whipped the ball into the penalty area, with Josh Scowen rising the highest, but nodded it over the bar.
Sunderland were looking like the more dominant side and when Charlie Wyke’s header from Conor McLaughlin’s cross from the right was narrowly over the bar, it was looking like a second goal was coming closer.
Around five minutes before half time, that second goal did come, but it fell for the away side, with Jack Lankester equalising for the visitors. Gwion Edwards dribbled the ball to the by-line and cut it back to Lankester, who took one touch and then arrowed it off the inside of the post and flew into the back of the net.
After the two minutes of additional time, Jack Lankaster’s goal proved the final one of the first half with both sides heading into the half time interval level.
Half Time - Sunderland AFC 1-1 Ipswich Town FC
Second Half Action
Phil Parkinson very rarely makes a change at half time, but did at the break in this one, with Max Power providing a like-for-like switch for Josh Scowen, who was removed from proceedings.
Both sides were looking to create the goal that would put themselves into the lead and Sunderland came the closest when a corner from the left was met by the head of Tom Flanagan, but it was fizzed over the bar.
Ipswich began to look much more threatening that in the first half when a defensive lapse allowed Judge to cross the ball into the penalty area to Lankester, who took it down and rocketed the ball inches over the bar.
The Sunderland manager made his second substitution and this time, it affected the attacking line with Danny Graham replacing Chris Maguire.
Ipswich’s task for the three points were made arguably more difficult with the Tractor Boys being reduced to ten men. In the centre circle, both Andre Dozzell and Grant Leadbitter contested for the ball with the Ipswich midfielder producing a crunching tackle on Leadbitter and the referee - Peter Wright - showed Dozzell a dismissal.
Luck didn’t seem to be on the side of Ipswich Town, with the referee giving an arguably harsh penalty for the Black Cats. When Conor McLaughlin’s cross was cleared by Mark McGuinness, O’Nien nodded the ball back into the danger zone, with Nsiala removing it from the penalty area. During the clearance, the ball struck the arm of McGuinness, with the referee deeming the incident to be a penalty.
From the resulting spot kick, Grant Leadbitter netted his second penalty of the season as he calmly tucked the ball into the bottom right corner.
Sunderland had an ideal opportunity to seal the three points when the ball was chipped to the back post, with Graham nodded it back across goal to Wyke, who had time and space. In an unnatural position, Wyke managed to launch his boot at the ball, but his attempt soared just over the bar.
During the final moments of the 90, the home side made their final change when an extra defensive option was introduced, with Dion Sanderson replacing Lynden Gooch.
As the five minutes of injury time was up, Grant Leadbitter’s penalty turned out to be the winning goal with Sunderland claiming what could be a vital three points come May.
Full Time - Sunderland AFC 2-1 Ipswich Town FC
Pre-match, an air of anticipation filled the city of Sunderland, as the Black Cats were set to embark on one of their toughest-looking games of the League One season so far.
The conversion of the 7pm kick-off being put back to 7:30pm added to the sense of tension as Ipswich Town came to the Stadium of Light - looking to make it three wins out of three.
A victory for the Black Cats would be one of the biggest that they may ever pick up during the season - removing three points from a promotion rival and gaining three to your own - and this is exactly what Phil Parkinson’s side did.
During the match, in reality, Ipswich didn’t pose a threat to the Black Cats until around the half-hour mark, with Sunderland showing the epitome of what Parkinson is looking from his team.
The press from midfield looking to force mistakes from a backline that was content to play the ball out from the defence.
When Ipswich did level the game, it was clear that Sunderland’s defensive lines had mistakes within them; they just had to be exposed. Luckily for the Black Cats, Ipswich didn’t exploit this like Portsmouth did only ten days earlier. Could the fragility in the defence be as a result of the continuous changing backline, due to a number of different issues over recent weeks?
At the full time whistle, the echoes from Ipswich supporters could be heard up on Wearside. It was clear that they would have been very frustrated by the debatable red card decision and the penalty incident. On the other hand, their side didn’t really create many clear-cut chances to take the three points, so could it be argued that Sunderland deserved the three points more?
Youngsters from the academy sides, like Jack Diamond and Dan Neil, were unable to feature during this 2-1 victory, but they will most likely feature in Sunderland’s next two games. An FA Cup first round tie against Mansfield is followed up by the final group stage game in the Papa John’s Trophy at Fleetwood, with changes expected to be made in bulk with fringe players due to be given a chance to stake a claim to be able to show why they are fit to play in the first team.
Despite the cups not being the priority, a good FA Cup run will be good for the club, but without fans, the streaming method will help to bring the magic of the FA Cup home.