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Finlay’s Report: Sunderland don’t quite ‘batter’ the Cod Army... but it was a great win

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The win won’t be ultimately seen as a match to remember, but it seems like a major step forward, as within the past two games the Lads have shown how they can win both professionally, and ugly.

Soccer - Sky Bet League Two - Play Off - Final - Fleetwood Town v Burton Albion - Wembley Stadium Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

After getting the better of bogey side Burton on Saturday afternoon, Sunderland have finally beaten Fleetwood Town for the first time in seven matches, with goals from Aiden O’Brien and Max Power contributing to the 2-0 win on Tuesday night.

After a lacklustre first half that took the Black Cats a while to get going, two headers from O’Brien and Power meant that Sunderland moved up to fifth in the League One table.


The Team...

Only one change was made by Lee Johnson - Jake Vokins was dropped to the bench, with the Sunderland head coach persisting with the 3-4-3 formation that worked so effectively against the Brewers on Saturday. Callum McFadzean came back into the side after missing out at the weekend following a concussion. And, after scoring on Saturday afternoon, Grant Leadbitter was handed another start ahead of Josh Scowen and Carl Winchester.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Papa John’s Trophy Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

First Half Action

With Kyril Louis-Dreyfus watching his first home match since his takeover was confirmed, the football on the pitch in the opening period didn’t prove to be quite as exciting as his youthful and professional imagination.

It was the visiting side who began the game with the greater intent to score the opening goal, with Vassell’s lobbed pass to the back post proving to be untouchable for his fellow-striker, Harvey Saunders.

From there, it proved to be the home side who began to grow into proceedings, with McGeady instigating the Sunderland’s attacks.

First, his left-footed drive was fired just wide of the left post from distance, before his little dink into the penalty area eluded Charlie Wyke and dropped away from danger.

He continued to provide the opportunities to his colleagues, as he squared the ball across to Max Power, who set out on hammering it into the bottom left corner from long range, but it flew wide of the left post.

One of the final chances of the first half summed up the opening 45, with Sunderland being unable to find the attacking touch, with McGeady’s thumping shot rebounding off the gloves of Alex Cairns.

Half Time - Sunderland AFC 0-0 Fleetwood Town

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

Second Half Action

Conor McLaughlin set the early tone for the second half as Sunderland sought out an opening goal, with McLaughlin’s volley being fired into the gloves of Alex Cairns.

Lynden Gooch looked to build on his second goal in his last two appearances as his effort was aimed under the Fleetwood goalkeeper after McGeady’s through ball. Luckily for the Cod Army, Gooch’s effort was blocked before it was able to creep over the goal line.

The pressure that the Black Cats threw onto their opponents finally told, as Aiden O’Brien netted the opening goal. McGeady rushed across to the left flank, before chipping the ball into the area, with O’Brien guiding it past Alex Cairns.

That proved to be one of McGeady’s final moments of the game, as he was replaced by Jordan Jones, after producing another assist.

Jones almost played an instant role in a second goal for the Black Cats, as McLaughlin’s delivery found the Sunderland attacker, whose header was grasped hold of by the goalkeeper.

He was at the centre of another opportunity not long after, as his right-footed drive was rolled into the gloves of Alex Cairns.

With less than ten minutes of normal time remaining, the three points were fully sealed, as Power gained a well-deserved goal for his performance.

Power directed the ball past the Fleetwood goalkeeper and into the bottom left corner, after Maguire’s teasing delivery to the back post.

Four minutes of additional time allowed Sunderland to produce a composed and professional ending to the game, as they moved up to fifth in League One.

Full Time - Sunderland AFC 2-0 Fleetwood Town


Finlay’s Verdict

It was a night that went mostly in Sunderland’s favour.

Only a couple of results went against the Black Cats, with a gap between Sunderland and outside of the play-offs becoming to appear into sight.

A third successive win in the league has put Lee Johnson’s side into a position, where anything is able to be achieved.

Try telling people two weeks ago, after a humiliating defeat to Shrewsbury, that the club will be in a Wembley final, the takeover will be completed and promotion is back on the cards - they wouldn’t have believed you.

But, despite all of that, this certainly wasn’t a game worth savouring or making note of.

Yes, it was Sunderland’s first win against Fleetwood in their seventh attempt, but it seemed a slog to get to that position, and it wasn’t the most entertaining or eye-catching performance.

However, the ultimate positive was that three points were gained, on a night where the Black Cats definitely weren’t at their best.

The opposition were a Fleetwood side that were lacking in their creative sparks. Paddy Madden was ruled out of the game, with Simon Grayson deciding that Callum Camps would play a role from the bench.

This was a side that has struggled for goals in the past couple of weeks, and they showed that in the full 90 minutes.

Their 3-5-2 formations opted for both defence with the three defenders and defensive holding midfielders, whilst also two strikers in attack. Kyle Vassell brought experience onto their shoulders, whilst Harvey Saunders brought the youth to the set up.

It was apparent their lack of an attacking spark, even if they dominated the opening stages, but even then, the Black Cats took control, but lacked a goal scoring touch within the final third.

With time, chances came and Aiden O’Brien and Max Power disposed of their chances, with the Black Cats able to rely on different players, instead of Charlie Wyke, even if it is for one game only.

The win won’t be ultimately seen as a major game to remember, but it seems like a major step forward, as within the past two games, the Black Cats have portrayed how they can win both professionally, and ugly.

A trip to Crewe will enable the Black Cats to potentially make it four league wins out of four, with the Railwaymen providing a stern opposition for the likes of Accrington and Ipswich over recent weeks.

Sunderland will hope to build on Tuesday’s win against Fleetwood at the weekend, with Lee Johnson most likely only rewatching the midweek game for analysis and definitely not entertainment.