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Finlay’s Report: Does Max Power’s goal paper over the cracks, or did Sunderland deserve a draw?

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“Does Max Power’s late equaliser for Sunderland just paper over the cracks, or is this a significant goal in the promotion race?” asks RR’s junior reporter Finlay Anderson.

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

Sunderland managed to salvage a draw against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday night thanks to a late, late strike from Max Power.

Barrie McKay had given Fleetwood the lead in the fifth minute, and they held that lead for more than 90 minutes, until the 90+7th minute, when Power netted a very late equaliser.

Due to this result, Sunderland stay fourth in the League One table, whilst Fleetwood drop out of the top six, but have a game in hand. In Tuesday night’s other big clash, Coventry and Rotherham played out a 1-1 draw at St Andrews, meaning no one takes an extended lead at the top of the table.


The Team...

Phil Parkinson stuck with the same XI that beat Bristol Rovers 3-0 on Saturday afternoon. Alim Ozturk started a second successive match in the absence of Bailey Wright. George Dobson - who is still one yellow card away from a two-match ban - began the match in the centre of midfield, alongside captain, Max Power.

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

First Half Action

On a five match winning run, Fleetwood came to the Stadium of Light in high confidence, and began the match as the better team. Within the first few minutes they should have been ahead when Paddy Madden slipped the ball through to Barrie McKay, who was in behind, but his shot was blocked by the legs of Jon McLaughlin.

Only a couple of minutes after this, the Cod Army did take the lead, much to the delight of their boss, Joey Barton. Yet again, Madden and McKay combined to allow McKay in behind again. He effortlessly drifted the ball past Jordan Willis, and his shot was slotted under Jon McLaughlin.

The Black Cats began to creep back into the match after this, when from the byline, O’Nien played the ball back to Chris Maguire and his angling shot shaved the crossbar, and dropped out for a throw-in to the visitors.

Just before half time, Sunderland troubled the Fleetwood goal again and this time, Lynden Gooch tried his luck to level the match. His shot from inside the penalty area rolled centimetres from the left post.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Second Half Action

Early on in the second half, Sunderland were forced into making a change when Denver Hume went off injured, with Antoine Semenyo replacing him. Lynden Gooch dropped back to left wing-back, whilst Semenyo took his position.

Despite Sunderland piling the pressure onto the visitors, Fleetwood posed a threat to the hosts on the counter-attack and almost doubled their advantage when Wes Burns was threaded through, and he sprinted towards the goal - followed by the back-tracking Max Power.

As the clock was ticking down, the Black Cats were becoming more desperate and Parkinson’s second change showed just how much he was trying to unlock the Fleetwood defence. He brought on Kyle Lafferty for George Dobson.

Whilst, Fleetwood made a double change when Jack Sowerby and Josh Morris were brought on for the Cod Army, in the place of Paul Coutts and Barrie McKay.

Sunderland began to throw the kitchen sink at their opponents, but their pressure wasn’t paying off as Max Power eyed the headlines, but his shot from around 25 yards out flew miles over the bar.

Parkinson used up his substitutions when he brought on Duncan Watmore, in the place of centre-back Jordan Willis.

With six minutes of injury time being signalled, Antoine Semenyo tried to net his first goal for Sunderland, when from outside the penalty area, he turned the ball onto his left foot, and his curling shot was angling into the top left corner, but it was blocked by the head of Harry Souttar.

As the clock began ticking into extra time of extra time, if something was going to happen, it had to happen now, and Max Power took the initiative and sent the remaining fans left at the Stadium of Light into pandemonium. Inside the penalty area, Lafferty laid the ball off for Duncan Watmore, who stroked it to Max Power, who then curled a shot around five Fleetwood Town players, and into the bottom right corner.

This proved to be virtually the last kick of the game, meaning the match ended Sunderland AFC 1-1 Fleetwood Town.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict....

Some Sunderland fans had already lef the Stadium of Light before the match was even over, whilst others sat in their seats with their head in their hands, resigned to knowing that the Black Cats weren’t going to take anything from this match. But, just how they were proven wrong with the latest of late equalisers through Max Power. That equaliser is another significant goal in the promotion battle, but is this the most important out of the lot?

It was looking like it wasn’t going to be Sunderland’s day - they were finding it very hard to break the solid defensive unit of Fleetwood Town. The Black Cats had found themselves in brilliant positions throughout the match, but they couldn’t find the finishing touch. There was one point on Tuesday nightw here Parkinson had six attacking options on the pitch. This just shows how much Sunderland needed that goal.

If they had lost, Fleetwood would be level on points with the Black Cats with a game in hand. Now, the gap is the same between Sunderland and Fleetwood and between both Sunderland and the table-toppers, Rotherham. Due to Coventry’s 1-1 draw against Rotherham, it could have been the perfect opportunity to close the gap on the top two, but Sunderland were left to settle for a draw.

The scenes at the full time whistle shows how much that Power goal means to the fans and the club. Most of the supporters that were still at the Stadium of Light stayed to applaud the Sunderland players off the pitch.

The eruption when the equaliser hit the back of the net felt like Sunderland had scored a winner against one of the top two, but a draw against one of the promotion rivals is okay considering the Black Cats were seconds from claiming nothing.

Now, the Black Cats must take this confidence from a late equaliser to St Andrews on Sunday, where they face Coventry City, in what could be argued as the biggest game of Sunderland’s season so far. Coventry will most likely be the favourites, considering their league position and that they are at home, where they have been solid all season.

Declan John may come in for his first start in a red and white shirt if Denver Hume isn’t able to make the starting XI due to his injury he picked up on Tuesday night. I wonder whether there may be an attacking shake-up to give the Black Cats a new threat at the top end of the pitch, but whoever starts, they will need to put in a shift, so we are able to take something from St Andrews.