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Finlay’s Report: Sunderland take a huge step towards promotion - is it time to believe?

Last night’s win for Sunderland feels like a significant moment. Is it time that we believed that promotion is attainable?

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Sunderland’s automatic promotion push took a huge leap towards success, as they took advantage of a depleted Portsmouth side, with goals from Charlie Wyke and Jordan Jones picking up one of the most important three points of the season.

Goals at the start of each of the two halves put the game out of Pompey’s sight, with Wyke’s header and Jones’ chip tightening the gap between Sunderland and the top two in Sky Bet League One.

The Team...

Lee Johnson only made one solitary change heading into Tuesday night’s huge League One clash at Fratton Park, as Josh Scowen returned back into the starting 11. He partnered Carl Winchester in the centre of midfield, with Max Power dropping back to his temporary right-back role, ahead of Oliver Younger. Jordan Jones continued to start another consecutive match, with Lynden Gooch returning to the bench, as did Tom Flanagan after being missing from defence due to an injury.

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

First Half Action

During the opening 45 Sunderland created the better of the opportunities, as Aiden McGeady reeked more havoc onto the Portsmouth backline, as his long-range effort was arrowed goalwards, but a diving save from Craig MacGillivray sent the ball out for a corner.

From the resulting corner, Sunderland exploited Portsmouth’s woes from set-pieces, as Charlie Wyke continued his goalscoring form by being allowed a free header from Jordan Jones’ corner to divert the ball into the bottom right corner.

After the opening goal, Sunderland continued their impressive opening, as their press helped to rob possession from their opponents.

The quality of the deliveries from the Black Cats was the major difference between the two sides, as McGeady’s wicked cross was looking like it was going to creep into the bottom corner, but the deflection from Sean Raggett allowed the ball to drop into the gloves of the Portsmouth goalkeeper.

Portsmouth were beginning to feel the pressure and the heat on them to produce performances, as they appealed for a potential spot-kick. John Marquis was slipped through, but fell over at the decisive moment after a ‘challenge’ from Dion Sanderson, but the referee gave nothing.

Sunderland enjoyed the better spells in the final third of the pitch during the concluding moments to the first half, with McGeady’s long-range drive being arrowed miles over Craig MacGillivray’s crossbar.

Half Time - Portsmouth FC 0-1 Sunderland AFC

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

Second Half Action

There was no real rhythm to the opening stages of the second half, but the game was placed out of the sight of Portsmouth, as another error from Sean Raggett doubled Sunderland’s advantage.

Raggett’s loose pass across to the left wing was intercepted by Jordan Jones, and a sublime chip over the goalkeeper from a tight angle bounced over the goal line to produce the sucker-punch blow to the home side.

Like games against Swindon and Rochdale, the Black Cats were forced to produce a professional and composed defensive performance, but Kenny Jackett’s side didn’t place the Black Cats under much pressure - signifying their troubles at the moment.

The Black Cats perhaps should have had a third, as McFadzean’s cut-back slipped under the leg of Craig MacGillivray, and Charlie Wyke’s effort was blocked on the line by the arm of the Portsmouth goalkeeper.

The introduction of Chris Maguire brought more tempo into the final moments of the match and he almost gained a goal against his former side, but his free-kick from just over 20 yards out deflected off the wall and bobbled out for a corner.

Full Time - Portsmouth FC 0-2 Sunderland AFC

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict

There can be no doubting that there was one significant moment that summarised Lee Johnson’s intent as Sunderland manager.

The second goal produced the sucker-punch blow for a Portsmouth side that have suffered a serious demise over the course of the past couple of weeks.

Despite the lack of confidence on the south coast, take no credit away from Lee Johnson’s side - the attacking press for the second goal symbolised everything that Lee Johnson wants from his attacking players.

If the circumstances of the goal was scrappy, the finish certainly wasn’t - it was a sublime lob over a goalkeeper that has suffered the same goal twice in a couple of days after Northampton’s third goal on Saturday.

In the context of the 90 minutes, the second goal shifted the match in Sunderland’s favour, but in the long-run, this is a huge moment in Sunderland’s season.

Despite not moving in the Sky Bet League One table, the points total of each of the top sides have changed dramatically over the course of a Tuesday night, where promotion hopes have reached a pinnacle for the Black Cats.

Sunderland are only five points off the top of the table with two games in hand on Hull, and two points from the top two, and Lee Johnson’s side still have the current top three in the table, and if they continue producing similar performance to that of Tuesday night, there should be no reason why they shouldn’t achieve nine points out of nine.

Perhaps focus could be turned to the demise of Portsmouth, who are with only one win in their past seven matches, with Lee Burge being left for a spectator for large periods of the match.

The work that was required for the goalkeeper was reduced dramatically by the work of the players in front of him - with Luke O’Nien and Carl Winchester being particular impressive characters who controlled their areas of the pitch.

The flow of possession from side to side, the professionalism of the defensive side of the performance and the quality in attack are just a handful of aspects of Lee Johnson’s tactics that paid off against Pompey.

These qualities will be rolling over on Sunday, as the trip to Wembley on Sunday and the virtual day becomes just a step closer.

The Papa John’s Trophy final will bring the Black Cats with an opportunity to turn attention away from League One promotion, but from Monday morning, attention turns directly back to the final run-in.

Tuesday night’s display provides Lee Johnson and the players with one of the most recognised performances of their impressive run of form, and it certainly feels like a significant moment in Sunderland’s season.

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