Sunderland continued their unbeaten start to the League One season as they ground out a 1-0 victory against Peterborough United at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon.
The only goal of the game came from the spot with a Grant Leadbitter penalty - resulting in Sunderland climbing up to 4th place in the League One table.
Phil Parkinson made three changes to the side that claimed their first victory of the new League One season against Oxford United last Saturday. Max Power was the only enforced change as he missed out after limping off at the Kassam Stadium, which meant Josh Scowen took his place in the Sunderland midfield.
Charlie Wyke was preferred to Danny Graham up top and Lynden Gooch’s goal against Oxford was enough to secure himself a place in the side, with Aiden O’Brien dropping to the bench.
Peterborough United began the match the brighter of the two sides with their front three particularly threatening. Dembele’s early long range effort was pushed away by Lee Burge, but only as far as Clarke-Harris – who luckily for Sunderland dragged the shot wide of the post.
Darren Ferguson’s side continued to dominate the opening stages and had another chance with a Clarke-Harris free-kick from just under 25 yards out being cleverly punched away by the Sunderland goalkeeper.
Peterborough had more of the possession and opportunities during the opening exchanges, but the Black Cats will always provide a threat on the attack. Luke O’Nien had one of the home sides’ best efforts of the first half with a header that was diverted just wide of the right post from around ten yards out.
With 38 minutes on the clock, Phil Parkinson was forced to make his first substitution much earlier than he would have expected when Chris Maguire was unable to carry on with a suspected hamstring problem. The Scottish international was replaced by Aiden O’Brien, with Scowen pushed further forward and Gooch slotting back into a more central midfield role.
After three minutes of additional time at the end of the first half neither side had managed a breakthrough.
Half-Time - Sunderland AFC 0 - 0 Peterborough United
The second half at the Stadium of Light began in explosive fashion, with both sides looking eager to attack and break the deadlock. For Sunderland, a cross from the right travelled all the way to the opposite flank, where Hume shot just wide of the left post.
Sunderland began to apply the pressure and threatened from a Josh Scowen free-kick when Charlie Wyke connected to the ball first, but his header was diverted wide of the right post.
As the second half progressed, Darren Ferguson’s side managed to get a grip of the game and came close to opening the scoring when a free-kick from long range was arrowed off the crossbar by Sammie Szmodics.
With around twenty minutes remaining, the Sunderland manager made his second change of the match when Charlie Wyke was replaced up top by Danny Graham in an effort to take the initiative to Peterborough.
Ten minutes later he was rewarded when Sunderland were gifted a clear opportunity to take the lead when the referee Scott Oldham pointed to the spot for a penalty. Denver Hume forced the decision through a positive run inside the box before he was tripped by Jack Taylor as Hume stretched out a leg ahead of the Peterborough midfielder.
Grant Leadbitter stepped up and calmly side-footed the ball into the bottom left corner from 12 yards out.
Peterborough United sought out an equaliser in the remaining minutes of the game and Leadbitter made sure his penalty would ultimately remain the solitary goal of the game when he cleared Clarke-Harris’ header off the Sunderland goal line.
As five minutes of added time were confirmed by the fourth official, Parkinson tried to kill more time when using his third change with Conor McLaughlin replacing Lynden Gooch.
Peterborough scored twice in added time during their 2-1 victory over Fleetwood last weekend and almost equalised during the injury time at the Stadium of Light when Reed’s shot from outside of the penalty area was drilled just wide of the post.
After a nervy finish, Sunderland clung on to claim all three points at the Stadium of Light.
Full-Time - Sunderland AFC 1 - 0 Peterborough United
During a promotion-winning campaign, teams that claim promotion have to grind out victories in games where they aren’t at their best.
Everyone is aware of how much Sunderland need to achieve promotion from League One this season, so how much do you care that we weren’t playing at our finest when we managed to claim all three points?
Overall, the points are all that matter - points on the board are much more significant than playing well, but of course, fans will be frustrated by the way the Black Cats played on Saturday.
Peterborough will be annoyed by the fact that they were unable to even claim a point, but for Sundeland, claiming six points out of six against two promotion candidates will be pleasing.
Last week, Lynden Gooch provided pace and energy into the game, scoring a calm-and-collected finish into the bottom right corner - earning himself a place in Saturday’s starting XI. It was probably harsh on Aiden O’Brien, who did lack a cutting edge, but he provided the attacking intent that we require up top.
In a week when it was announced the Government had postponed the return of supporters to sport, the Stadium of Light was filled with an eerie silence - on an afternoon that would have had the supporters bouncing. A early-season battle between two promotion candidates would have had the stadium lifting and the atmosphere would have been electric.
The enthusiastic match stadium announcer had acted like there was people in attendance, but the first referee’s whistle was met with a sinister and unnatural silence followed by echoes circulating around the Stadium of Light. Initially these sounds consisted of frustration and reorganisation from the Sunderland team, as Peterborough dominated the opening stages of the match.
Siriki Dembele provided the spark and energy that the home side lacked, with Clarke-Harris partnering him well up front. Sunderland fans know the impact that Clarke-Harris has, after he netted goals against the Black Cats in both of the past two seasons - playing for Coventry City and Bristol Rovers.
Phil Parkinson’s side was lacking a cutting edge, with chances coming at a premium. The pressure from the midfield and the wing-backs was clearly there, but there was no end-product.
In the second half, it was clear that the visitors were looking more likely as if they were going to travel back down south with the three points, but Jack Taylor’s challenge on Denver Hume was seen as a penalty.
Sunderland needed a cool and composed player to step up and take the penalty - with the club captain, Grant Leadbitter, being that type of figure. Sunderland fans would have been fooled to think that it would have been one of the attacking players who would have taken it, as Leadbitter dispatched the spot-kick as well as any striker.
Next up, a chance for revenge with a trip to Charlton Athletic for the first meeting between the two sides since the 2019 League One play-off final, and everyone knows what occurred then. Some of the players that featured in that game still play in Charlton colours, but the likes of Lyle Taylor and Josh Parker no longer play for the club.
Obviously, an improved performance is required as an away game against a team who was relegated from the Championship last season should be more challenging. The striker issue may be resolved as Parkinson is likely to choose his favourite combination to start at The Valley.
Last week, the Addicks finally gained new ownership after months of uncertainty, and will look to win their first home game under new owners next weekend, but hopefully we will be able to continue our unbeaten run.