Following a huge success in the EFL Trophy, which saw us win the competition whilst scoring the most goals in the history of the competition, league action returned. Sunderland were the visitors to the Wham Stadium for an important game against Accrington Stanley. The hosts sat 13th in the league table after a poor run of form over the last month and a half.
There would be no room for a Wembley hangover if we were to win this one, it was set out to be a scrappy affair given the poor condition of the pitch.
This would be the start of a massive week of league football for the Black Cats, with another crucial game against high flying Lincoln City at the weekend. However, a remarkable run of form meant that there would be no reason that we couldn’t come away with maximum points and continue to climb up the table.
Lee Johnson made a total of five changes from the side that defeated Tranmere Rovers at Wembley. This saw Dion Sanderson, Conor McLaughlin, Jake Vokins and Jack Diamond all come into the starting eleven. Star man Jordan Jones was still yet to return from his injury, with a host of other big names also still watching from the sideline.
As for Accrington Stanley, their key men included Sean Mconville, Queens Park Rangers loanee Paul Smyth and Dion Charles. Manager John Coleman would have urged his men to be quick out of the blocks and I’m certain Lee Johnson would have said something similar in the other dressing room.
The match got underway at the Wham Stadium as the lads aimed to pressurise the Accy back line. It was a fairly cagey start to proceedings, as the ball spent a lot of time in the air and neither side were really able to take control.
Carl Winchester was one player who did catch the eye, as the midfielder that Lee Johnson brought in from Forest Green Rovers continues to improve in red and white.
The first real clear-cut opportunity came from the hosts as they broke away on the counter-attack before Paul Smyth fired his attempt inches wide of the post.
Sunderland did create one good chance though, but it was Luke O’Nien who was unable to direct his free header on target. There was most certainly room for improvements in the second forty-five and there would need to be if we were to go on and win the game.
Lee Johnson opted to bring January addition Ross Stewart on for his debut in the second half and the target man would virtually make an instant impact in this fixture. He came close to opening the scoring just moments after being introduced, with his header dropping inches wide of the post. After 62 minutes the moment that we had been waiting for eventually arrived.
Wembley hero Lynden Gooch provided the ammunition as Ross Stewart met his delivery with a looping header, which dropped past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net to make it 0-1. Despite Accrington’s best efforts to prevent the goal Charlie Wyke proved his significance once again with another header goal from the corner to double our lead. That was all for the action as we claimed another vital three points in our quest for automatic promotion, the race is definitely on!
Overall, it was not the prettiest nor most convincing of performances but we knew that from the start. If anything, this shows just how good a group of players we have when we continue to consistently win football matches without playing particularly well on the day.
Incredibly and rather bizarrely, Ross Stewart has now played one game, scored one goal and won one trophy - not a bad start to life on Wearside!
All eyes now turn to Saturday afternoon as we face Lincoln City. This match is arguably even more important than that Wembley final, as the Imps currently sit in a rather promising fourth position, just behind Sunderland in third.
Of course, both sides will have their eyes on the top two as the race for automatic promotion heats up. Can Lee Johnson finally be the man to take the lads back to the Championship? Only time will tell.