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Finlay’s Report: Considering all the pre-match drama, was a draw a good result for Sunderland?

Considering all that went on prior to kick off - with Sunderland losing eight of the first team squad through COVID and COVID shielding - was last night’s draw with Wimbledon such a bad result?

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Sunderland’s COVID-19 outbreak overshadowed Tuesday night’s affairs, as Lee Johnson’s side drew 1-1 with AFC Wimbledon at the Stadium of Light.

Joe Pigott had given the Dons the lead from the penalty spot just before the half time interval, before Bailey Wright fired Sunderland on level terms, and that was how it remained.

The Team

With the news that eight players were self-isolating after one Sunderland player tested positive for COVID-19, Lee Johnson was made to make an abundance of changes after Saturday’s 4-0 victory against Lincoln City. Johnson wouldn’t have wanted to alter his side after an impressive three points on Saturday, with five changes to the starting 11.

Will Grigg and Aiden O’Brien were brought into the side, with Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady being left out of the side.

In the centre of midfield, George Dobson and Elliot Embleton were given a chance to shine, ahead of Max Power and Josh Scowen; the latter who was injured. Furthermore, Dion Sanderson was provided with one of his first starts in League One in the centre of defence.

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

First Half Action

Sunderland enjoyed majority of the possession during the opening stages of the first half, but AFC Wimbledon had the first clear-cut chance of the game when Ryan Longman carried the ball up field, and wriggled his way into the six-yard box, but aimed his drilling drive into the gloves of Lee Burge.

The absentees from the COVID-19 outbreak at the Academy of Light was looking as if it was having a huge impact on the starting 11, with it taking until around the 25th minute to record their first clear-cut chance. Embleton was the source of this attempt when his powerful shot was driven into the gloves of the AFC Wimbledon goalkeeper.

As the first half crept on, the home side were looking more desperate to find an opening and when Embleton dragged a long-range shot wide of the right post, Sunderland had the upper hand over their opposition.

That pressure and possession showed for nothing, as AFC Wimbledon handed themselves a golden opportunity to take the lead from the penalty spot. Rudoni eased his way past Callum McFadzean and crept into the penalty area, but was brought to the ground by the Sunderland defender, and a penalty was awarded.

From that resulting penalty, Joe Pigott’s right-footed effort was arrowed straight down the centre, with Lee Burge unable to save the spot-kick and the away side were handed the advantage.

The only goal of the first half from the penalty spot meant that both sides paced back into their respective dressing rooms, with AFC Wimbledon holding the one-goal advantage.

Half Time - Sunderland AFC 0-1 AFC Wimbledon

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Second Half Action

Being a goal down, Lee Johnson made his first substitution of the game, bringing on a half fit Lynden Gooch for George Dobson.

Sunderland began the second half looking like the more attacking side and came close to a leveller when O’Brien’s long-range effort was curled just over the corner between bar and post.

That increased attacking threat saw the Black Cats level the match just after the hour mark when Diamond’s left-footed cross dropped for Wright, who allowed the ball to bounce, before firing it past the goalkeeper and smashed against the inner-netting.

AFC Wimbledon almost responded instantaneously when Ryan Longman’s left-footed drive from inside the penalty area was clattered off the top of the crossbar.

The away side were coming slightly closer to regaining their advantage when Shane McLoughlin made his way into the right-hand side of the penalty area, and arrowed an effort onto the side-netting of Lee Burge’s goal.

After netting a brace against Norwich on Monday, Mitch Curry was provided with 15 minutes to express himself in attack, with Will Grigg being replaced.

All the golden opportunities were falling in the direction of the visitors and almost found a second goal when a cross from the right wing was whipped into the area and Terell Thomas weakly guided an attempt wide of the left post.

Lee Johnson made his third change when Jordan Willis was reintroduced into the Sunderland first team after an injection on a recurring knee injury, with Callum McFadzean being replaced.

During the final three minutes of additional time, no side really tried to impose themselves onto their opposition, with the match ending in a one-all draw.

Full Time - Sunderland AFC 1-1 AFC Wimbledon

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict

It was not the pre-match preparation that Lee Johnson would have expected after Saturday’s impressive 4-0 victory against Lincoln City.

After Saturday’s fantastic match, in which the Black Cats collected their first three points under Lee Johnson, emotions were running high and excitement was forcing fans to look forward to a match for the first time in a long while.

But, only a couple of hours before kick-off, a club statement read that eight first-team players would be left out of the squad, as they were self-isolating due to a positive case at the Academy of Light.

This led to a dramatic showdown between the club and the EFL, but the club didn’t want to experience the repercussions of postponing the match.

An investigation would have been conducted into the exact processes that resulted in the self-isolation of these players.

COVID-19 is something that every club is going to have to deal with, between March 2020 and until the pandemic weakens and life returns to more of a normality.

Newcastle have recently had their Premier League match against Aston Villa postponed and their academy deemed unsafe, and Oxford, Bristol Rovers and Accrington Stanley have already had a couple of their games called off.

The match between Sunderland and AFC Wimbledon was still to be played at the Stadium of Light, despite the health impact that it may cause.

For Lee Johnson, the depth of the squad meant that the task for three points was made harder, and the preparation to the game was almost impossible.

To come from behind saw some character from the team, but the three points lacked, but could the difficult circumstances make the 1-1 draw acceptable?.

The match saw another chance for Will Grigg to try and score a first goal of the season, but the performance lacked, and saw him being replaced by youngster, Mitch Curry, in the 75th minute.

The fact that Johnson had to rely on players that had conducted 90 minutes the previous day for the under-23’s against Norwich, was worrying for the side on both Tuesday night and for the future games.

Tuesday night saw a lack of an attacking intent that was clear on Saturday afternoon - was this due to the removal of McGeady, Maguire and Scowen from the side?

On Saturday, the Black Cats are meant to face their first game in front of a 2,000 fan capacity in Shropshire, as they travel to Shrewsbury, but that match hangs in the balance due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

There is only a limited number of changes that Johnson will be able to make, but a positive of Tuesday saw both Willis and Gooch return to the squad after a spell on the sidelines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Sunderland AFC, and the repercussions of one positive case will not be known today or tomorrow, but in a couple of weeks and months time.

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