New prospective Sunderland owner, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, watched on, as Sunderland’s unbeaten away league run ended with a 2-1 defeat to Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night.
A strike from Aiden O’Brien had given the Black Cats a one-goal lead, but second-half goals from Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Harry Chapman placed Shrewsbury in the driving seat, as Lee Johnson’s side picked up their fifth league defeat of the season.
Lee Johnson rotated his Sunderland side ahead of the trip to Shropshire to face Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night, with three changes being made. The most eye-catching of those changes was that Remi Matthews began in between the sticks, ahead of Lee Burge. Jordan Jones made his first start in League One for the Black Cats, with Josh Scowen coming in for Luke O’Nien in the centre of midfield. O’Nien was originally placed on the team sheet, only to be removed as a late change to the squad during the warm-up, with Leadbitter therefore taking his place in midfield. Jake Vokins kept his spot in defence for a second successive match, as Tom Flanagan missed out again.
First Half Action
After making two changes after the team news was announced, Lee Johnson was forced into making another one, only a couple of minutes into the match. Jordan Willis was removed from action with a serious knee injury, with Dion Sanderson taking his place.
Shrewsbury Town created one of the first opportunities, but it came to nothing, when Sean Goss’ long-range effort being spun miles over the crossbar.
The first goal of the match came when Sunderland’s two forwards interlinked well, as Wyke poked the ball through for Aiden O’Brien, who carried it past the Shrewsbury backline, and hammered it into the top right corner.
During the first half, a ten-minute spell from the home side had Sunderland defending more than looking for another goal at the top end of the pitch. Donald Love’s cross pin-pointed Main inside of the penalty area, but his header was directed into the gloves of Remi Matthews.
Curtis Main was involved for the hosts again, when his shot from around 20 yards out was powered straight into the grasp of the Sunderland goalkeeper.
Just before the interval, Lee Johnson’s side looked to authorise their intent to find a second goal when Jordan Jones’ corner from the right was met by the head of Charlie Wyke, but his header was blocked by the legs of the Shrewsbury player on the goal line.
The final opportunity of the first half came when the ball broke for McGeady on the right-side of the penalty area, but his looping volley was aimed wide of the left post.
Half Time - Shrewsbury Town 0-1 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
Within less than ten minutes of the second half, an error from Remi Matthews opened the door for a Shrewsbury revival, as they equalised. A cross from the right from former-Sunderland player, Donald Love, was met by the head of Curtis Main. His header looped over the out-rushing Remi Matthews - giving Ebanks-Landell an easy diving-header into the back of an empty Sunderland net.
Sunderland produced an instant response, but didn’t find the goal that placed them back into a one-goal lead. McGeady produced his signature move to cut inside, before his shot was looking like it was going to creep into the top right corner; only for the goalkeeper to tip the ball over the bar.
Only moments later, a more clear-cut opportunity fell the way of Bailey Wright, but his header was blocked by the legs of the Shrewsbury Town goalkeeper, Matija Sarkic.
With all eyes on the three points, Lee Johnson brought on Lynden Gooch as an additional attacking option, with Jordan Jones ending his league debut.
Lee Johnson would have been looking for the three points, but Shrewsbury were placed directly into the driving seat, as Shaun Whalley’s cross into the penalty area was whipped to the back post, with Chapman providing a side-footed finish into the roof of the Sunderland net.
The Shrews thought that they had a third goal when Goss’ free-kick was drilled into the penalty area, with the ball creeping under Remi Matthews, and looking like it crossed over the line. Meanwhile, the assistant referee lifted his flag, with Whalley being deemed to be in an offside position, as he cut in front of Lee Burge.
In an attempt to reverse the fixture, Lee Johnson made a double substitution, with both Luke O’Nien and Jack Diamond coming on, with Max Power and Jake Vokins being replaced.
Sunderland used the final five minutes to apply pressure onto their opponents, with their best chance coming when McGeady’s free-kick from around 30 yards out was met by the dive of the Shrewsbury goalkeeper, who parried the ball away for a corner, which proceeded to nothing for the away side, and the Black Cats’ unbeaten away league run was over.
Full Time - Shrewsbury Town 2-1 Sunderland AFC
At 8pm on Tuesday night, it seemed like Sunderland’s day was becoming better and better.
News surrounding the salary cap being abolished kick-started a day when the Black Cats would place their unbeaten away run on the line against a Shrewsbury side, who were still without their manager, Steve Cotterill.
The salary cap had been an obstacle put in place by the EFL halting all League One and Two clubs from the money that they were able to spend - making the league “fairer” in their opinion.
It most likely affected Sunderland the most, with the overall size of the club compared to the smaller clubs in the division, but in January, Lee Johnson and Kristjaan Speakman had to manoeuvre around, and so they tried.
Speakman was in attendance with prospective new owner, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, at New Meadow as Sunderland took a 21st minute lead through Aiden O’Brien.
During the opening half, Shrewsbury had the more of the opportunities, but Sunderland were the more clinical and more deadly.
The new owner would have been fairly content with what he had witnessed, but nothing would have ignited his passion further to complete the deal of the club.
Then, the second half represented the true challenge that he will take on when the completion of the takeover is announced.
It portrayed reflections back on Sunderland’s Championship days, whilst also showing an eye-opener into the task that Louis-Dreyfus will take on board.
The changes made before kick-off from Lee Johnson severely back-fired on him, with Matthews being at fault for the opening goal, but this reflects no animosity, as if the changes had paid off, no one would be complaining.
The Black Cats had been challenging with the most elite in English football with their away record, but after Saturday’s 2-2 draw against MK Dons, it seemed only a matter of time before that run would be over. And so it was.
Twice the away side were carved open defensively, with the severe injury to Jordan Willis looking like it may have a catastrophic blow on the Black Cats’ promotion bid.
In three days time, Doncaster make the trip to the Stadium of Light, with Saturday’s match being one of the toughest tests that Lee Johnson will have faced during his spell at the club.
An in-form side has regularly caused the Black Cats problems, but the way they react to this defeat will always judge on how impactful it will be for Lee Johnson.