Sunderland claimed their first league victory at the Stadium of Light under Lee Johnson, as they scraped a 1-0 victory against Shrewsbury Town on Saturday afternoon.
Charlie Wyke scored his 11th League One goal of the season as the only goal of the game, with Leon Clarke having the best of Shrewsbury’s chances, but wasn’t able to dispose.
The Sunderland head coach made two changes from the side that lost 2-1 against Plymouth Argyle on Tuesday night. New signing Carl Winchester dropped to the bench, with Grant Leadbitter returning to the centre of midfield. Meanwhile, Max Power replaced Dion Sanderson in the right-back role, with Aiden O’Brien continuing to partner Charlie Wyke in attack. Despite limping off in the first half on Tuesday night, Jordan Willis was available to partner Bailey Wright in the heart of defence. Also, Jack Diamond and Aiden McGeady played another successive match in attacking midfield, ahead of Josh Scowen and Grant Leadbitter.
First Half Action
Sunderland began the match brightly, and within the opening 20 seconds, they carved out their first opening of the game, with Josh Scowen’s volley from Diamond’s cross, being arrowed wide of the right post.
It began a period of dominance in the final third from the Black Cats, and with 18 minutes on the clock, they found their reward as Charlie Wyke netted his fourth goal in his last three appearances. McGeady’s looping cross from the left was met by the head of Wyke, who matched the cross by guiding the ball over the Shrewsbury goalkeeper.
Wyke almost grabbed himself a second as the ball was chipped behind the Shrewsbury backline. The Sunderland striker pounced onto and knocked it around the goalkeeper with his first touch, but the opportunity was squandered as, from a tight angle, has he drilled the ball against the side-netting.
Shrewsbury Town were gifted a golden chance to equalise when a Burge clearance dropped at the feet of Harry Chapman, who fed the ball to Shaun Whalley. He cut it back to Leon Clarke, who was provided with time and space to pick his spot from inside of the penalty area. Unfortunately for the visitors, he stroked it over the bar.
The Shrews came even closer to a leveller before half time, with Harry Chapman at the centre of a swift move, as he weaved his way past a number of Sunderland shirts before his shot from the left-hand side of the penalty area was beaten away by Lee Burge.
At the half time break, Lee Johnson would have rue his side’s missed opportunities to extend the Black Cats’ lead, with his side heading into the break with the one-goal advantage.
Half Time - Sunderland AFC 1-0 Shrewsbury Town
Second Half Action
After the break Shrewsbury played with much more confidence than they expressed in the first 45, with Leon Clarke having another good chance to level the match when a cross found the Shrewsbury forward. His first touch set himself up to shoot, but Bailey Wright knocked the ball into the gloves of Lee Burge before Clarke was able to pull the trigger.
Sunderland’s performance dropped off markedly from the first half, and their first switch saw a change in the attacking mindset of Lee Johnson, with Chris Maguire replacing Jack Diamond.
The visitors looked like the side that were going to score the next goal, with Shaun Whalley producing a driving run, before unleashing an effort from the centre of the goal from around 25 yards out. His shot was aimed directly over Lee Burge’s crossbar.
More pressure was exerted onto the Sunderland backline, as a succession of shots from just inside of the area were consecutively blocked by Sunderland shirts, with both Donald Love and Leon Clarke trying their luck; the latter being halted by the chest of Aiden O’Brien.
Sunderland’s best opportunity of the second half came when Max Power’s effort from a narrow angle on the right-hand side of the penalty area was smashed off the side-netting.
Lee Johnson used two of his substitutions towards the end of the match, as both Carl Winchester and Luke O’Nien - who made his return to the side - replaced Aiden McGeady and Josh Scowen.
After five minutes of additional time, the hosts managed to hold on to their advantage, with the help of keeping the ball into the corner towards the latter ends of the second half, as they claimed their first win at the Stadium of Light since November 2020.
Full Time - Sunderland AFC 1-0 Shrewsbury Town
Saturday’s victory against Shrewsbury was never the prettiest of performances.
Ultimately, in football, it is the three points that will be judged, but fans will also weigh in the performance that their team displays. The three points have propelled the Black Cats up to seventh in the table, but how the team gained the three points worried some fans.
It seems like Saturday’s victory was a slight mirror image in parts to that of last weekend’s 3-0 win against AFC Wimbledon. Shrewsbury placed the Black Cats under spells of pressure, much like the Dons did, but the Shrews carved out much better opportunities than Glyn Hodges’ side.
Lee Johnson may judge that the Black Cats were lucky to take away three points, but victory is always something to build on. It may not be representative of where his side are; the match was played as a game of two different halves, with the first half being controlled by the Black Cats, the second being grasped hold of by Shrewsbury.
During the opening 45, the visitors were good at providing possession to the Black Cats, with the home side causing mistakes from the team set up by Aaron Wilbraham due to their high press. In the second half, Shrewsbury bossed proceedings and if they were more clinical, would have had Sunderland in a greater predicament.
Lee Johnson may look at Saturday’s result against Shrewsbury as a good result, with the visitors having previously beaten Hull, Lincoln and Doncaster away from home during December, keeping clean sheets against them all.
Just like last Saturday, Lee Johnson will hope to build on this win, as the Black Cats make the trip to Portman Road, as they take on ninth-placed Ipswich Town, live on Sky Sports TV.
There is no doubt that the quality of the performance will have to be stepped up for the test of Ipswich on Saturday, a side that will be looking to bounce back after a narrow defeat to Peterborough. Sunderland have claimed some of their most impressive results against teams in the top ten of the table, and Lee Johnson will look to do so on Tuesday night.