Lee Johnson has claimed his first League One victory in charge of Sunderland, as the Black Cats stormed to a 4-0 victory against second-placed Lincoln City at the LNER Stadium.
A Grant Leadbitter penalty, a strike from Charlie Wyke and a fantastic finish from Jack Diamond raced Sunderland into a three-goal lead at half time, before Wyke netted his second to seal Johnson’s first league win.
Lee Johnson made three changes for his first away match of the season, with Charlie Wyke leading the line ahead of Will Grigg, whose goals have dried up for the Black Cats. Jack Diamond remained in the starting eleven, with Lee Burge also returning in between the sticks, replacing Anthony Patterson, who began on Tuesday night at Boundary Park in the Papa John’s Trophy. Also, Aiden McGeady started his second successive League One match in attack, with Chris Maguire dropping to the bench.
First Half Action
Within the opening seven minutes, Lincoln were able to break in behind the Sunderland defensive line, but were unable to convert a golden opportunity early on when Brennan Johnson carried the ball half the length of the pitch. He cut into the penalty area, before rolling his effort just wide of the right post.
The Black Cats hit back and had a chance of their own when the ball dropped to Max Power, just on the edge of the penalty area, but his shot arrowed directly into the gloves of the Lincoln goalkeeper.
Brennan Johnson was provided with yet another opportunity to give the Imps the lead when he caught Callum McFadzean out and reeled away and attempted to circle the goalkeeper. Johnson did, but at a tighter angle, the Lincoln winger smashed the ball off the side-netting.
Despite having the better chances, Lincoln conceded a penalty just before the quarter-hour mark when Diamond raced into the penalty area and was being nibbled by Tayo Edun, before being eventually brought to the ground by Jorge Grant.
Grant Leadbitter stepped up for the Black Cats and placed the ball into the bottom right corner - sending the Lincoln goalkeeper the incorrect way, giving Sunderland the lead.
Lee Johnson’s side almost saw their advantage doubled when Aiden McGeady’s free-kick from just outside of the penalty area was whipped around the wall, but collided with the side-netting.
Sunderland’s lead was doubled when Conor McLaughlin crossed the ball to the back post, where Callum McFadzean was awaiting to knock it down for Wyke. The Sunderland striker was positioned to react and divert the ball into the back of the Lincoln net.
The Black Cats were looking like a completely different side to the one that has been playing in recent weeks, and managed to find a third goal before half time when McGeady dribbled the ball forward and eased it to Jack Diamond, who had time and space to curl it into the top left corner.
Jack Diamond’s marvellous strike before half time meant that Lee Johnson took his side into the half time interval with a three-goal cushion, with Lincoln struggling to compress the Sunderland attack.
Half Time - Lincoln City 0-3 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
At half time, Lee Johnson conducted his first change, by removing goal scorer, Jack Diamond, who was on a yellow card, with Chris Maguire replacing him in attack.
The intent of netting a fourth goal was still lively in the Sunderland ranks, and were close to finding that goal when McGeady’s shot from outside of the penalty area was fizzed goal wards, and it was dropped by Alex Palmer. With Wyke lingering, Palmer had to be quick to re-comfort the ball - halting any further Sunderland attacks.
McGeady stung the gloves of the Lincoln goalkeeper for a second successive time when he unleashed an effort from long range, but it was punched away by Alex Palmer.
Johnson made his second substitution of the match in the 68th minute when an injured Josh Scowen was replaced by George Dobson in the centre of midfield.
Sunderland put the game out of reach from the Imps, when they finally sealed the three points with a fourth goal. Flanagan slipped the ball through to Maguire, who eased away from Tayo Edun inside of the penalty area, and cut the ball to Wyke. The Sunderland striker lifted it past Alex Palmer and into the top right corner.
The Sunderland head coach made another two changes, when Elliot Embleton and Dion Sanderson were introduced into the match, with Aiden McGeady and Conor McLaughlin both being replaced.
The away side tried to look for a fifth during their attack, and when Grant Leadbitter’s long range effort was saved by the Lincoln goalkeeper, the thought of a fifth goal was growing in the minds of the Sunderland players.
Lee Johnson used all five substitutes, by making a change in attack, with Will Grigg coming on - looking to get in on the act - as Charlie Wyke’s intent of a hat-trick was removed.
Despite scoring three goals in the first half, only one was on offer in the second half, as Charlie Wyke’s strike in the 72nd minute sealing the three points for the Black Cats.
Full Time - Lincoln City 0-4 Sunderland AFC
Just over one year ago, Jack Ross was dismissed from his role as Sunderland manager.
His last game saw his weak and drowsy side drop three points in Michael Appleton’s first win in charge of the Imps at Sincil Bank.
Since then, the Black Cats hadn’t really sought out the response they had expected from the appointment of Phil Parkinson, which inevitably lead to his sacking two weeks ago.
But now, it seems like Lee Johnson’s appointment might just be the shed of light that has been called for since Sunderland’s 2-0 defeat against Lincoln 14 months ago.
The Black Cats’ 4-0 win against the Imps on Saturday was one of the best performances that many fans have witnessed in a long, long time.
But, what caused this change in performances - was it the formation? Was it the personnel? Or was it the tactics that the players implemented?
Saturday’s victory had completely juxtaposed to the entirety of Parkinson’s reign.
The pedestrian football has been replaced with the pressing and attacking project that Johnson is beginning to work on.
Some fans who don’t watch the matches may believe that Diamond has been purely placed into the side as supporters were calling for his introduction during Parkinson’s last legs of his tenure.
This ideology is completely incorrect, as during the cup matches, the youngster has shown his characteristics of his pace and his knowledge of the game, and represented all of these values on Saturday.
His yellow card had dragged him back - causing Johnson to substitute him at half time, but there is no doubt that he will start his second successive match on Tuesday night, when AFC Wimbledon come to the Stadium of Light.
Overall, it seems like the fans have been granted with their wish of youth in the side and an attacking performance, and the players are beginning to benefit off each other, and the team don’t rely on one player any more.
Despite all of the uncertainty that is continuing off the field, if Sunderland keep playing the same way, the table will have the Black Cats at the summit.