Sunderland are off to Wembley again, this time to play an EFL Trophy final against Tranmere Rovers, after defeating Lincoln City on penalties last night.
Anthony Scully had given the Imps the lead, before a Sunderland fight back resulted in Charlie Wyke netting another header from another Aiden McGeady cross. Sunderland netted all five shootout spot kicks, with Ramirez Howarth slamming his penalty against the crossbar for the visitors.
Lee Johnson made two changes to the team that impressively beat Doncaster Rovers 4-1 on Saturday afternoon. Max Power reverted to full back, giving Dan Neil a chance in the centre of midfield.
With Dion Sanderson cup tied Luke O’Nien lined up at centre-back, while Grant Leadbitter came back into the team to partner Josh Scowen in midfield.
Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady, meanwhile, were both given the opportunity to continue their successful run in attack.
First Half Action...
The opening stages of the first half didn’t have the high intensity that typified Saturday’s victory against Doncaster Rovers, with goalscoring opportunities at a premium.
An early chance from Lincoln came as Montsma’s header from a corner was flicked over the bar, and Michael Appleton’s side were happy to play around with the ball in defence – and Sunderland not pressing as high or as frequently as the weekend.
The closest Sunderland came in the opening stages was when Callum McFadzean’s low drive was tipped wide of the left post by the Lincoln goalkeeper.
As the first half progressed, the Black Cats began to find their feet with McGeady at the heart of majority of the attacks – his left-footed shot from just outside of the penalty area drew a save from the Lincoln goalkeeper.
Towards the end of the first half, Sunderland’s higher press was beginning to reap some rewards, and caused a few cracks to emerge in the otherwise resolute Lincoln defence.
Half Time - Sunderland AFC 0-0 Lincoln City
Second Half Action...
Sunderland made an enforced change at the interval, with Conor McLaughlin taking the place of Bailey Wright, who sat the second half out with a calf problem.
Lincoln have scored the most second half goals in all of the top four English leagues, and despite both Diamond and Maguire being introduced, Lincoln grew into the game.
Johnson’s effort from Bramall’s cross was deflected wide of the right post, before they opened the scoring when Burge could only parry McGrandles’ shot to the feet of Scully, who poked the ball into the bottom right corner.
The goal spurred Sunderland into action, with Charlie Wyke coming close on three occasions before finally equalising.
First, his diving header from Diamond’s cross from the right was tipped over the bar by Lincoln goalkeeper Palmer.
Next, Maguire’s low cross picked out Wyke at the front post, with the Sunderland striker flicking the ball into the gloves of the keeper.
The goal finally arrived when Maguire’s back-heel found Aiden McGeady, and the McGeady-Wyke combination resulted in a header for the striker and a goal for the Black Cats.
An onslaught of Sunderland chances put pressure on the Lincoln backline, with McGeady’s left-footed shot from distance stinging the palms of the keeper, while during the final moments of added time, Max Power came to Sunderland’s rescue, as he blocked Johnson’s shot from around 10 yards out.
Full Time - Sunderland AFC 1-1 Lincoln City
After the first round of penalties were scored, both goalkeepers came close to giving their side control of the shootout, as O’Nien’s cheeky effort crept into the back of the net, before McGrandles’ penalty was pushed into the back of the net by Lee Burge.
The first and only penalty miss came from Lincoln’s third penalty, after Chris Maguire had put Sunderland 3-2 up. Howarth’s penalty from 12 yards was hit with so much force, that it had the crossbar rattling and the ball spinning back towards the halfway line.
There were no other misses from the spot, as McGeady and Leadbitter scored for Sunderland to seal a 5-3 shootout victory, and the Black Cats’ third trip to Wembley in two years.
It never really felt like a semi-final tie on Wednesday evening.
Pre-match, an empty Stadium of Light was filled with TV cameras as fans were forced to watch on from home. Even Sky Sports didn’t even provide any additional crowd noise to add to the atmosphere, with the dreary mood being reflected on the pitch.
Supporters had to use social media as a way of showing their celebration and excitement with a Wembley final approaching in March.
Flags and cardboard cut-outs will, of course, be present at Wembley in place of supporters, but as accustomed as we are to watching from home, missing a trip to Wembley will be difficult. Hopefully, watching the final on Sky Sports will provide us with a brief moment of excitement and something to look forward to in such troubling times.
Wednesday night’s performance offered a number of positives and negatives for Lee Johnson. The early stages were uncomfortable and rather lacklustre from a Sunderland point of view, but after Lincoln’s opener it was pleasing to see the McGeady and Wyke combination once again provide a goal.
Supporters have bemoaned one-all draws during Sunderland’s time in the third tier, but this one we’ll probably be quite happy with!
In a month’s time, Sunderland will have to be at their best in what may seem on paper to be a fairly routine fixture for the Black Cats against League Two Tranmere.
Keith Hill’s side have performed well in this competition, beating a lot of in-form League One outfits, including Peterborough and Oxford, so they shouldn’t be under-estimated.
A trip to Wembley will entertain the minds of the players, heading into the next couple of weeks, but there is still 18 League One points up for grabs before we head to the twin towers.
The focus now turns back to the promotion race, and hopefully the Black Cats accumulate enough points to mean they’re not relying on another trip to Wembley to secure promotion.