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Finlay’s Report: McGeady’s masterclass kickstarts Sunderland’s promotion push

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An Aiden McGeady masterclass and a prolific game for Charlie Wyke sent a clear statement to Sunderland’s League One counterparts. Has Saturday’s victory reinvigorated Sunderland’s promotion push?

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Charlie Wyke smashed a number of records as he scored four times during Sunderland’s 4-1 victory over Doncaster Rovers on Saturday afternoon.

The Sunderland striker became the first Sunderland player to score two league hat-tricks in the same season since Marcus Stewart in 2004/2005, while his third goal of the match was his 100th of his career.

Doncaster notched a consolation after Taylor Richards’ shot rebounded off the back of Lee Burge, who also saved two penalties.


The Team...

Lee Johnson made six changes in response to Sunderland’s first League One away defeat. After looking fearful and unsteady against Shrewsbury, Remi Matthews was dropped back to the bench, with Lee Burge returning in between the sticks. Jordan Willis is out for the season for the Black Cats, and Dion Sanderson took his place in the centre of defence. Both of the full-backs were changed, as Max Power was moved into midfield, and Jake Vokins was dropped to the bench. Conor McLaughlin and Callum McFadzean came back into the side, while Lynden Gooch also returned to the starting 11, in place of Tuesday night’s goalscorer Aiden O’Brien.

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light
McFadzean returned to the side after missing a couple of games through injury
Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

First Half Action

After being dropped for Tuesday’s defeat to Shrewsbury, Lee Burge was tested early on – easily saving Taylor’s left-footed shot.

The Black Cats continued their habit of scoring early on in matches, with Charlie Wyke doing so to net his 18th goal of the season.

McGeady’s corner from the left was floated into the penalty area, and Wyke met the delivery at the front post, directing the ball into the bottom left corner.

The response to the defeat against Shrewsbury was exceptional, as the Black Cats netted their second of the match, and Wyke’s second of the game, with fewer than 12 minutes on the clock.

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The same partnership linked up well, with the Irishman beating Brad Halliday, before his looping cross into the box found Wyke again, with the striker powering his header past the Doncaster Rovers goalkeeper.

Sunderland’s advantage was almost halved when Reece James’ cross from the left picked out Taylor, who was in acres of space inside the penalty area, but the Doncaster winger arrowed his shot just wide of the right post.

From almost having their lead halved, the same duo, who had combined for Sunderland’s first two goals, linked up again.

McGeady’s cross from a narrower angle was chipped over the Doncaster backline, with Wyke being deemed as being in an onside position, as the Sunderland striker nodded the ball into the bottom left corner.

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Aiden McGeady was pulling all of the strings, and nearly played a part in a fourth goal for the Black Cats, as he produced superb and mesmerising skill to evade a couple of Doncaster men, before slipping through Gooch. The American was one-on-one with the Doncaster goalkeeper, but Balcombe was able to block Gooch’s effort, as the Black Cats went into the interval with a three-goal lead.

Half time: Sunderland 3-0 Doncaster


Second Half Action

With less than 10 minutes of the second half gone, Sunderland’s lead was reduced, in rather unfortunate circumstances.

Omar Bogle cut the ball back to Richards, who was in the centre of the penalty area, but his shot struck the right post. Luckily for the away side, the ball rebounded off the post and hit the back of Lee Burge, before rolling into the back of the net.

Less than a minute later, the final goal of an extremely remarkable League One match sealed the three points for the Black Cats, as Charlie Wyke added his name into the history books with his fourth of the match.

For a fourth successive time, McGeady’s cross into the penalty area pin-pointed Charlie Wyke, whose header was able to beat the Doncaster Rovers goalkeeper.

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It seemed like every couple of moments there was a fresh twist and turn as the referee controversially pointed to the spot for a Doncaster Rovers penalty.

O’Nien fell to the ground just on the edge of the penalty area, before the referee gave the away side a penalty for a presumed handball from the Sunderland midfielder.

There was a lot of discussion before the kick-off surrounding the goalkeeping position, and Lee Burge vindicated his selection by saving Jon Taylor’s penalty.

The spot-kick was fired straight down the middle, with the ball being lashed away by the feet of Lee Burge - with Sunderland’s three-goal lead being sustained.

Johnson made his first substitution, as Max Power was pushed to right-back, with Conor McLaughlin being replaced by Grant Leadbitter.

Josh Scowen almost forced his way onto the scoresheet, as he whipped a delivery into the penalty area, with the ball being sent goalwards, with no Sunderland shirt being able to attack the cross, but Scowen’s cross cannoned off the crossbar.

Lee Johnson brought on more attacking options, with Aiden O’Brien, Jack Diamond and Jordan Jones being introduced into the match, with Luke O’Nien, Lynden Gooch and Aiden McGeady being removed.

With less than a couple of minutes remaining, the referee gave Doncaster another penalty, but this time, the decision was much less controversial. Callum McFadzean tripped Jason Lokilo just inside of the penalty area on the right-hand side, with Darren Moore’s side being given a chance to reduce the deficit.

Lee Burge was able to save another penalty, as Lokilo’s spot-kick enabled Burge to make an easy save in the centre of his goal.

During the three minutes of additional time, Lee Johnson’s side were able to well-manage the final moments, as Charlie Wyke became the first player to score four times at the Stadium of Light for Sunderland.

Full Time - Sunderland AFC 4-1 Doncaster Rovers


Finlay’s Verdict...

On Saturday, it felt much more than three points.

It felt like a statement of intent to Sunderland’s League One counterparts, after an extremely tough past couple of weeks.

Doncaster have been on a good run of form, and have only lost six times since they drew 1-1 with the Black Cats in November, albeit they came into this match after being beaten 3-1 by Fleetwood.

After a period of frustrating results, if Sunderland are going to achieve promotion from the third tier, this is the exact moment to change.

A 4-1 victory against Doncaster in the short-term may be three points, but in the long-term, it could change the course of the Black Cats’ season.

It felt like Saturday was a sign of the future of the Black Cats. Kyril Louis-Dreyfus was in attendance at the Stadium of Light for the first time, as the takeover inches closer and closer.

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

He witnessed the first signs of a future partnership of Wyke and McGeady that may propel them to the top of the scoring and assist charts within League One.

Also, the trajectory of Wyke’s season is remarkable and unbelievable. From being ruled out for the first couple of weeks of the season, to being the top scorer of the league, Wyke is certainly providing the goals, and McGeady is definitely providing the assists and the finesse.

On Saturday, McGeady was simply outstanding and showed what Phil Parkinson was missing, leaving him out in the cold for around a year.

If McGeady provides Saturday’s performances, week in, week out, and Wyke consistently scores goals, there should be no reason why the Black Cats can’t achieve promotion come May.

But, McGeady has portrayed to the Sunderland fans how the Black Cats can’t rely on him all of the time, however, if he is able to sustain this sort of form more often, Lee Johnson would be very pleased surrounding his decision to bring the winger back into the fold.

Saturday’s form absolutely abolished the troubles Lee Johnson’s side have been having at the Stadium of Light; four goals against an in-form side and a striker who is in ruthless form provides the head coach with comfort.

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Saturday began the start of the toughest weeks that the Black Cats may have - a midweek semi-final to Lincoln will certainly provide the Black Cats with some more hope that they can reach the final of the Papa John’s Trophy.

It now feels like the Black Cats are able to hold their own against the top teams in League One, with Saturday’s victory seeming like a turning point in Sunderland’s season.

But how many times have we said that before?