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Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One

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Finlay’s Report: The Lads get back to winning ways with home victory over The Tractor Boys

Sometimes, you just have to find a way to win, even if it’s not particularly pretty - join Finlay Anderson as he recaps all the action from yesterday’s sweet victory at the SOL!

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine just how significant this victory is for Lee Johnson.

Pre-match, he knew the importance of gaining a positive result after a five-game winless run in all competitions, and pressure was beginning to mount upon a side that simply has to achieve promotion this season, by hook or by crook.

There was an air of pessimism around the stadium heading into 3pm, as fans hoped for a change, but in truth, what we witnessed wasn’t a huge difference to recent displays.

Yes, Sunderland were better - they held their nerve on occasion, and looked a threat on the counter - but still, there was a feeling of nervousness at times in both halves.

In Lee Johnson’s words, “it wasn’t Ajax or Barcelona” or “champagne football”, but it was a performance and a match that concluded in three vital points.

Yet, vital still doesn’t portray the significance.

It’s testament to Sunderland’s character and their overall morals as a team that they were able to bounce back from a period of form where tension began to build.

And in truth, that tension and pressure on the team was shown within the starting 11 and setup, as Lee Johnson opted for a change in shape – going against what the Sunderland boss usually stands for.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images,

Sunderland moved to a front-two, with Nathan Broadhead returning to partner Ross Stewart, whilst the Black Cats’ full-back worries continued - Dennis Cirkin is set to be out until January at the earliest, so Luke O’Nien had to fit in at left-back.

It proved to be a battle of contrasting styles in the early stages, as in-form Ipswich looked confident and threatening in their attacking approach, but Sunderland were nervous and shaky in stages, and found it difficult to gain any momentum.

The home side had to resort to long balls forward all too often, and in truth, it proved to be the building-blocks for a solid Ipswich start, as they probably should have taken the lead to show for their early-match dominance.

Sam Morsy came the closest in their early efforts, but after Bersant Celina’s cut-back, the Ipswich midfielder was only able to drag his right-footed effort wide of the left post.

Sunderland started to look threatening on the counter-attack but failed to really test the Ipswich backline, as Ross Stewart had two penalty appeals waved away – the most convincing appearing when he was dragged to the floor by Janoi Donacien.

After the match, Paul Cook rued his side’s lack of killer instinct in front of goal, but they were denied by a fabulous piece of goalkeeping as a triple save from Thorben Hoffmann proved decisive in keeping the score level at the break.

Lee Johnson shuffled his pack and moved personnel around, with Broadhead moving into a wider role, swapping with Elliot Embleton - helping Sunderland to build momentum, as O’Nien’s cross narrowly drifted away from the right boot of Ross Stewart in the centre of the penalty area just before the half-time interval.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images,

After the half-time reprieve, the second period started slowly - with neither side really taking the game by the scruff of the neck.

That, coupled with constant bookings from the referee, produced an increasing frustration around the Stadium of Light - but, the use of fresh legs swung the pendulum in Sunderland’s favour, as McGeady, Pritchard, and Leon Dajaku were all introduced into the fray, with the latter arguably making the biggest impact.

Ipswich’s best effort of the second half came just before the most important moment of the match, as Sone Aluko was unable to fire home from point-blank range, smashing the ball over the bar.

As home fans began to plan their journey home, there proved to be an unexpected twist in the tale as, out of nowhere, Sunderland somehow managed to get the opening goal of the game.

Pritchard’s corner to the back post left the Ipswich goalkeeper flapping inside the six-yard box, with Luke O’Nien’s header eventually hitting the back of the net.

Ipswich were left stunned and were unable to forge one last opportunity - and it was a moment of naivety from Aristote Nsiala that sealed the three points, as his handball from Stewart’s pointless volley was deemed a penalty, and one that McGeady calmly disposed.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

And so, things seem so much clearer on Wearside.

Sunderland, and Lee Johnson, simply needed a win on Saturday - the three-game winless streak was the lowest ebb of our season so far, and the Black Cats lacked direction and character in a series of utterly painful defeats.

But now, after one win, Sunderland seem to have some of their mojo back. It’ll take a while to be fully restored – Lee Johnson will be under no illusions that his side were second-best for large parts on Saturday afternoon and that there is still a lot to work on, but yet, it was the three points that mattered the most.

Against one of the league’s in-form sides it made the victory taste sweeter, but there’s still plenty of work to do on the training ground between now and when the Black Cats travel to Shrewsbury on Tuesday night.

This game is one that probably won’t last long in the memory, but its significance is not to be understated - come the end of the season, it could prove to be vital.


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