Sunderland owner Stewart Donald was in attendance as the Black Cats picked up their first three points of the 2020/2021 League One campaign with a 2-0 victory over Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Both of the two goals came within the second half, with Luke O’Nien and Lynden Gooch netting to boost the confidence of the Sunderland camp.
For Saturday’s match against Oxford United, Phil Parkinson named two changes to the starting eleven that drew 1-1 with Bristol Rovers at the Stadium of Light.
Danny Graham replaced Will Grigg up top, alongside Aiden O’Brien and Chris Maguire. In the latter stages last weekend, George Dobson was shown a straight red card - leaving him out of this encounter, with Grant Leadbitter replacing him, ahead of Josh Scowen.
The back-three stayed the same, with Bailey Wright partnering Tom Flanagan and Jordan Willis in the centre of defence.
First Half Action
Within the opening five minutes of the match Sunderland almost broke the deadlock through an unlikely source - Bailey Wright’s header from Chris Maguire’s free-kick from the right clashed off the underside of the Oxford crossbar, but unfortunately for the Black Cats, it bounced away from danger.
Oxford responded well and nearly scored from their first effort with Lee Burge almost being caught in no-man’s-land. As a long ball was looped into the penalty area, Burge came off his line, but Matty Taylor guided the ball over the Sunderland ‘keeper and, thankfully, it bounced wide of the right post.
Max Power was the first player to go into the referee’s notebook as he was penalised with a yellow card for a foul by Darren Drysdale in the 24th minute.
Oxford ended the first 45 minutes in a positive manner when they came closer to opening the scoring. Robert Atkinson played the ball across the penalty area to James Henry, who fired a shot towards the bottom left corner, but Lee Burge got down and halted it from rolling into the back of the net.
In the first half injury time, Chris Maguire’s free-kick almost gave the Black Cats the lead when a set piece from inches outside of the penalty area was dipped just over the bar by the Sunderland attacker.
At the interval, both teams went into the dressing rooms with the score being Oxford United 0-0 Sunderland AFC.
Second Half Action
Within the opening couple of minutes of the second half, Sunderland broke the deadlock through Luke O’Nien.
Hume’s cross from the left spun its way into the penalty area - falling to O’Brien, who lured the ball into his trap, before rolling it to Power. His miss-kicked shot eventually fell for Luke O’Nien, whose first time strike was arrowed into the bottom left corner.
The visitors were extremely close to doubling their advantage when Hume’s low shot was looking as if it was going to be drilled wide of the right post, but a touch from Leadbitter powered it narrowly wide of the left post.
Another chance fell the way of Sunderland and more specifically, Luke O’Nien. He managed to carry the ball into the penalty area and from the right-hand side, he launched an effort that was fired just wide of the left post.
With 62 minutes on the clock, Phil Parkinson was forced into making his first substitution of the match when Max Power had to come off the field injured, with Josh Scowen replacing him in midfield.
Only eight minutes later, another change was made by the visitors with Charlie Wyke coming on for Danny Graham.
As the clock ticked closer to the full time whistle pressure in the final third almost carved out a goal when Maguire’s knock down for Scowen enabled the Sunderland midfielder a brilliant chance to double their lead, but his volley was aimed straight into the gloves of Simon Eastwood.
Oxford were always still in the game and almost brought the game level when Mark Sykes dragged an effort from the right-hand side just wide of the left post.
With only 13 minutes of the match left, Parkinson named his final substitution, with Lynden Gooch coming onto the Kassam Stadium pitch for Aiden O’Brien.
Sunderland sealed the three points with 81 minutes on the clock when Lynden picked up the ball from around 45 yards out and dribbled it forward. The American beat around four Oxford players, and outmuscled another, before casually rolling the ball into the bottom right corner.
After six minutes of additional time was ended, the referee - Darren Drysdale - blew the full time whistle, with the match ending Oxford United 0-2 Sunderland AFC.
During Sunderland’s stint in League One we’ve had our fair share of strikers. From Josh Maja to Kyle Lafferty, both Jack Ross and Phil Parkinson have never stuck with one striker for the full campaign... could this season be that season?
Considering the first two League One matches, I suppose that the answer to that question is no. Last weekend, Will Grigg began up top against Bristol Rovers, but on Saturday, Danny Graham lead the line for the Black Cats - so, who do you think is Sunderland’s main striker?
Sunderland began their League One campaign last week with a 1-1 draw, but Saturday represented their first win of the new league season against last season’s play-off finalists.
Some fans may believe that a win against a team that just missed out on promotion last season is a good win. Meanwhile, others may look at the fact that the Black Cats didn’t start last season very well after losing the 2019 play-off final, and see the victory as just three points added to their tally.
On Saturday, Sunderland fans had lots of positives to take from the game, as did the Sunderland manager, who was overall happy with the performance that the Black Cats put out. It was clear to anyone watching that in the second half of the game, the early goal changed the game, and Oxford never really got a foot hold in the second 45. Although the first half wasn’t bad from a Sunderland perspective, the players stepped the pressure up a notch and deserved the three points.
Next Saturday, the Black Cats face another promotion contender, Peterborough United, at the Stadium of Light. Over the past two league matches, one similarity was the amount of chances that Phil Parkinson’s side had, compared to the amount of goals that they scored. In truth, in some games, Sunderland could be capitalised on for not taking their chances, and that may be the difference between finishing 1st and finishing 2nd or ending the season 2nd or 3rd.
Overall, I doubt that any changes needed to be made as we don’t have any midweek games, so the team will have a whole week to recover and energise themselves for Saturday’s encounter. This period in the season could be crucial come May, as we face three possible promotion candidates consecutively, but after one win, hopefully that can spur us on for another three points on Saturday.