Sunderland began 2021 with a 0-0 draw against Northampton Town at the Sixfields Stadium, as they couldn’t convert possession into goals.
It was a 90-minute period that the Black Cats will want to forget sooner rather than later, as Northampton frustrated the Black Cats to a limited number of chances, and no side really troubled the opposition goal.
Lee Johnson made five changes from the COVID-19 hit team that played out a 1-1 draw against AFC Wimbledon eighteen days ago. After the outbreak that lead to 14 positive cases of the virus at the club, the Black Cats have had a lengthy break from League One, but they returned to league action at the Sixfields Stadium. Josh Scowen was given an additional period of recovery time, and was named on the team sheet, alongside Grant Leadbitter and Max Power. Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke both returned to the starting eleven, with Jack Diamond also starting his fourth consecutive game. In defence, Tom Flanagan replaced Callum McFadzean, whilst Lee Burge returned in between the sticks.
First Half Action
Sunderland created one of the first openings of the match when a free-kick from the right was curled into the penalty area, but Wyke glanced the ball narrowly wide of the left post.
Charlie Wyke was shown an early yellow card by the referee, Leigh Doughty, as he tried to block the Northampton goalkeeper’s clearance - much to the anger of the Sunderland striker.
The home side did well to frustrate the Black Cats during the opening stages of the game - limiting the number of chances that they could have to a bare minimum and doing their best to slow the game down.
Later on in the first half, Northampton thought that they should have had a penalty when the ball was knocked on to Ryan Watson, who allowed it to bounce and then take the ball around Lee Burge on the left-hand side of the penalty area. The Northampton attacking-midfielder claimed that he was brought down by the goalkeeper, but the referee gave the decision in the opposite way, with Watson receiving a yellow card.
After one minute of additional time at the end of the first half, both sides lacked in the clear-cut opportunities, with the score being goalless.
Half Time - Northampton Town 0-0 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
The home side had the best opportunity of the first five minutes of the second half when Ryan Watson carried the ball forward, and eventually unleashed an attempt from just over 20 yards out, but it was drilled just wide of the right post.
Desperation was beginning to kick into the Black Cats’ emotions as the clock ticked closer to the end, with Dion Sanderson trying his luck with a chance from range, but his effort was arrowed wide over the crossbar.
In the 67th minute, Lee Johnson made a double substitution in order to try and claim the three points, and both saw the Sunderland head coach add an additional attacking threat, with Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch replacing Max Power and Jack Diamond.
Sunderland began knocking on the Northampton door, and Charlie Wyke was the latest to try and give Sunderland the one-goal advantage when a corner wasn’t cleared fully by the Cobblers, and it eventually dropped for Wyke. From only a couple of yards out, the Sunderland striker poked the ball over the bar.
With just over ten minutes remaining, Johnson made his third change of the game when Aiden McGeady was removed from the game, with Aiden O’Brien - who is continuing his recovery after his injury that left him out since the end of November - replacing him in attack.
The Black Cats were handed an impressive opportunity when Leadbitter chipped the ball into the penalty area, where Conor McLaughlin was free of any claret shirts, but his attempt was poked straight into the gloves of the goalkeeper. Lee Johnson will have been relieved that the assistant raised his flag - stating McLaughlin was offside.
Lee Johnson made his fourth switch with only a couple of minutes left with a straight change up top, as Danny Graham replaced Charlie Wyke.
Meanwhile, after the three minutes of added time, the change to the personnel brought little change to the proceedings, with both sides lacking the goal scoring touch, as the match ended goalless.
Full Time - Northampton Town 0-0 Sunderland AFC
On Saturday, pre-match, the excitement returned.
After 18 days of no Sunderland football, the Black Cats made the trip to Northampton to face Keith Curle’s side, with the stress of watching the Wearsiders returning, alongside the exhilaration.
Meanwhile, the irony, two hours after 3pm, was that both Northampton and Sunderland played out a lacklustre affair, in which Sunderland couldn’t change possession into goals.
So, what factors contributed to Saturday’s goalless draw at the Sixfields Stadium?
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to tighten its grip on our day-to-day lives again, postponements in League One are likely to be something that teams are going to be involved with each week.
With the mandatory COVID-19 tests this week for all 72 EFL clubs this week, there will be no doubt that more clubs will record positive cases, so more games will be in doubt.
This therefore means that the Black Cats can’t use the excuse that the fatigue lead to the lack of the quality that no side had in the final third.
In reality, if the Black Cats want to achieve promotion at the end of the season - whenever that may be, three points against an inconsistent Northampton side should be mandatory, so do Sunderland really have what it takes to be promoted?
The simple answer to that question will not be answered just on the basis of just a 0-0 draw against Northampton, but in the long-term, a more consistent patch of form may just propel the Black Cats out of League One.
Due to the Fleetwood match being suspended next week due to the Cod Army’s infections, Lee Johnson will have an extended time period to work with his side, and improve the quality in the final third of the play.
Another period without Sunderland football approaches for Sunderland fans, but if Saturday is anything to go by, there will be no excitement ahead of our next match against Port Vale in the Papa John’s Trophy.