Sunderland’s automatic promotion chances suffered a massive blow on Sunday afternoon, as they lost 1-0 against Coventry City at St Andrews.
A second minute strike from Matty Godden proved decisive as the Sky Blues went two points clear at the top of the League One table.
The Black Cats are now four points off the promotion spots, and six off the top spot, and the Sky Blues have a game in hand on Sunderland.
For the third time in a row, Phil Parkinson stuck with the same starting eleven that managed to salvage a 1-1 draw against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday night. Before the match, there were doubts over Charlie Wyke and Lynden Gooch, but they were fit to start at St Andrews. Will Grigg featured in the matchday squad for the first time since he was on the bench for Sunderland’s 4-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers, with Duncan Watmore not having a place in the squad. Joel Lynch also returned from his concussion, with new signing, Tommy Smith, being dropped from the bench.
First Half Action
On Tuesday night, Sunderland conceded an early goal to Fleetwood, and they did so again at St Andrews with only two minutes on the clock. Jamie Allen threaded the ball into the penalty area, where Matty Godden was waiting, in a gaping hole in the Sunderland defence. Coventry’s top scorer then slotted the ball underneath Jon McLaughlin and into the bottom left corner.
Sunderland began to get going and almost struck back instantly. Charlie Wyke pressed on the Coventry defence and forced a mistake, allowing him to take possession of the ball in the final third, but he volleyed narrowly wide of the left post.
The Black Cats provided themselves a major chance to level the match when Maguire’s free-kick was delivered to the back post, where Tom Flanagan was free of any blue Coventry shirts. Instead of nodding the ball goal wards, he volleyed the ball miles over the bar.
Michael Salisbury - the referee - was reluctantly keeping his cards in his pocket, but his patience was pushed to the limit and booked the Coventry goalkeeper, Marco Marosi, for punching the ball away, when a corner was awarded to Sunderland.
Second Half Action
The second half began in an end-to-end fashion, with both sides trying to get forward and attack. Coventry were arguably creating the better chances, but weren’t taking them. A cross from the right was punched away by Jon McLaughlin, but only to Liam Kelly, who hammered the ball miles wide of the target.
Despite having back-to-back corners, Sunderland couldn’t make them count, allowing Coventry to try and make them pay for missed chances and almost did that when Liam Walsh’s shot from the right side of the penalty area was saved by the gloves of Jon McLaughlin.
With 68 minutes on the clock, Parkinson made his first change of the match when he brought on Kyle Lafferty, with Denver Hume making way. Lynden Gooch dropped back to wing-back, with Lafferty going up top alongside Charlie Wyke.
Sunderland believed that they were robbed with 75 minutes on the clock, when the ball was in the back of the net, but it was ruled out for offside. Power’s shot from outside the penalty area was deflected off the boot of Luke O’Nien and rolled into the bottom left corner, but O’Nien was in an offside position, so the goal was ruled out after the assistant - Peter Gooch - originally allowed the goal to stand.
A few minutes after this, Sunderland made their second change when they brought on another attacking option in Antoine Semenyo, with Jordan Willis being replaced.
Coventry should have put the game to bed when the ball was chipped over the head of Alim Ozturk to Matty Godden, who was one-on-one with Jon McLaughlin, but his shot was fired just wide of the left post.
After three minutes of additional time, where Sunderland threw everything at the Sky Blues, the match ended Coventry City 1-0 Sunderland AFC.
In recent weeks Phil Parkinson has restricted making a lot of changes - keeping consistency with the same teams, but after no win in the last two matches, is it time that the Sunderland boss makes changes to the starting eleven?
Last season, Matt Godden severely dented Sunderland’s automatic promotion bid with a late equaliser for Peterborough against Sunderland at the end of last season. Now, he has done the same thing, but this time for Coventry City, to make the Black Cats’ automatic promotion chances reduce.
The Black Cats now sit in fifth, four points off the automatic promotion spots, meaning that Sunderland have a job on their hands if they want to avoid the play-offs. Compared to the other sides aiming for promotion, the Black Cats have an easier run-in to the end of the season, as we only have to play Peterborough and Rotherham of the top nine. Sunderland will have to use this in their favour as they need to start making ground on the top two, after Sunday’s defeat.
The match at St Andrews was almost like a mirror image to the one that both Sunderland and Fleetwood played out at the Stadium of Light just five days early. Coventry were out of the blocks quicker than the Black Cats, and a hole appeared in the Sunderland defence, which had been solid so far in 2020, allowing Godden his bread-and-butter as a goalscorer.
From this stage, the Black Cats had it all to do, and the Coventry backline made it very difficult for the visitors to create their openings that we have seen so many times. If there is one thing that the Black Cats need to work on this week, it is set-plays. Sunderland have been having so many chances from dead-ball situations, with Tom Flanagan having the best of those opportunities, but somehow he still hasn’t added to his goal tally for this season.
Then, in the second half, we had the ball into the back of the net, with everyone celebrating, only for the goal to be ruled out. For once, the officials made the correct decision, but it was how they got to that conclusion that annoyed the Sunderland fans and team. It felt like it was tough to bounce back after that decision, something which we were unable to do.
Now, Saturday’s home match against Gillingham is of greater importance to Phil Parkinson, as he knows that he must win that match to begin to recreate some momentum after Sunday’s defeat. I am wondering whether it is time to make some changes - maybe give Josh Scowen some game time, or maybe start Antoine Semenyo or even Lafferty ahead of Wyke. Some of these decisions will have to be made by Parkinson before the match, and the fans can debate who should start and who shouldn’t all night long, but Parkinson will have the big decision. Our home form is something to be proud of, having only lost twice in the league at home in the last two seasons, and hopefully we can rely on it again on Saturday to produce three points.