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Finlay’s Report: “Are Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes are all but over?”

“Are Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes are all but over?” asks RR’s junior reporter Finlay Anderson in his break-down of our tragic away performance at Bristol Rovers last night.

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

Sunderland’s automatic promotion bid took a massive blow on Tuesday night when they lost 2-0 against Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium.

A brace from Jonson Clarke-Harris meant sure that Sunderland now go four games without a win, leaving Sunderland outside of the play-offs for the first time since the start of 2020.

The Black Cats are now still three points off second-placed Rotherham, but the Wearsiders have played a game more than all of the top six.

The Team...

Phil Parkinson made two changes to the side that conceded a late Mikael Mandron equaliser on Saturday in the 2-2 draw against Gillingham.

George Dobson had been stuck on nine yellow cards for a long time, with Dobson knowing one more would mean a two match suspension. Josh Scowen came in for his first start in a Sunderland shirt in the centre of midfield, alongside Max Power.

In the other change, Antoine Semenyo made his first start for Sunderland, with Lynden Gooch dropping to the bench.

After scoring twice on Saturday against Gillingham, Kyle Lafferty made back-to-back appearances, despite Charlie Wyke returning to the squad after missing out on Saturday.

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

First Half Action

Bristol Rovers began the match with a high tempo, not playing like a team who only had one win in their last 18 matches coming into this. Jayden Mitchell-Lawson got himself to the byline inside the penalty area, and then cut the ball back to Hargreaves, but Josh Scowen knocked it out for a corner before it could reach the Rovers midfielder.

Luke Leahy received the game’s first yellow card in the 29th minute when his challenge of Jordan Willis resulted a bust-up on the dugouts between both sets of managerial teams.

In a rather lacklustre first half, the first real opening resulted in a goal for Bristol Rovers. Alex Rodman slipped the ball through into the penalty area to Ollie Clarke, who played it across the face of goal, to Jonson Clarke-Harris, who turned O’Nien and successfully fired into the corner to give the Pirates a one-goal advantage.

The referee was left with a big call to make in injury time in the first half when Cameron Hargreaves claimed that he was brought down inside the penalty area by Jon McLaughlin, but the referee, Charles Breakspear, decided that the Bristol Rovers midfielder dived, giving Sunderland a free-kick and a yellow card to Hargreaves.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Second Half Action

At half time, Phil Parkinson made his first change up top, with Charlie Wyke replacing Kyle Lafferty, who had been booked in the first half.

The referee showed a sixth yellow card of the match when Ollie Clarke received a yellow card after a collision between him and Charlie Wyke, with Wyke coming off the worst.

With just under 20 minutes left, Parkinson made his second change with Aim Ozturk being replaced, with Lynden Gooch providing the Black Cats with another attacking option.

Bristol Rovers were given a golden opportunity to double their advantage when they were given a penalty. Sunderland’s captain, Max Power, was penalised for handball, when Luke Leahy’s cross was blocked by the arm of Power.

The Pirates took that chance to give themselves a two-goal advantage and surely put the game beyond Sunderland’s capabilities. Jonson Clarke-Harris stepped up and the ball rolled under Jon McLaughlin and into the back of the net.

Rovers had a chance to make it three-nil when Jayden Mitchell-Lawson’s shot from a very tight angle rolled just past the right post of Jon McLaughlin’s goal.

With three minutes left of the ninety, Parkinson made his third and final change as Will Grigg was given his first League One minutes since the 14th of December, as he replaced Josh Scowen.

The hosts should have added to their two-goal advantage when the ball dropped for Jonson Clarke-Harris inside of the penalty area, but his shot was tipped just around the left post by Jon McLaughlin.

After six minutes of injury time, the referee, Charles Breakspear, blew the full time whistle with the match ending Bristol Rovers 2-0 Sunderland AFC.

Bristol Rovers v Sunderland - Checkatrade Trophy Semi Final Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict....

After Sunderland’s 2-0 defeat against Bristol Rovers, they are still three points away from Rotherham, but have now played a game more than the Millers and all the top six, and two more than Coventry. So, is it time to say that Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes are all but over?

Before Saturday’s clash with Gillingham, I stated that this week could shape the rest of Sunderland’s season, with three games in the space of eight days. Some fans would have wanted nine points out of nine before Saturday, but now, we are only able to achieve four points. In truth, it didn’t look like matches against Gillingham, Bristol Rovers and Blackpool would be the biggest tests of the season. With only one win in their last 18 matches, not even Bristol Rovers fans would have expected their side to beat promotion chasing Sunderland, but they did so, and made it look like a stroll.

The team news provided two changes from the side that drew 2-2 against Gillingham. It seemed like a bold move from Parkinson to start Semenyo for Gooch, but in the last few matches, Gooch hadn’t been at his best, which we have seen this season. This provided a huge chance of Semenyo to shine and keep the shirt in the side. Before the match, it seemed as if Josh Scowen would have provided a different dimension in midfield, but in the end, we lacked legs in the centre of the park, and seemed tired come the end of the match.

Now, we face a huge trip to Blackpool, which could be dealt as a must-win for Phil Parkinson, to ease a bit of the pressure that is starting to mount after going four games without a win.

What must be said though is that there is still a lot of matches to go before the end of the season, and there are lots of clashes between teams in the top nine, meaning that teams will drop points each week, so Sunderland shouldn’t give up on their promotion dream yet. Regarding the trip to Bloomfield Road, the Tangerines will be looking to pick up their first three points under Neil Critchley, after losing 2-1 against Tranmere on Tuesday night.

Dewsbury-Hall will provide a threat for the hosts, having already scored against the Black Cats this season for Leicester City’s under-21’s in the Trophy.

Hopefully the travelling Sunderland fans will be able to see a huge win to add to our tally and climb back up the table.

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