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Finlay’s Report: Sunderland stutter past Swindon but Maguire shines again - time for a start?

Promotion was the ultimate goal when Lee Johnson came to the club in December and, finally, it feels that it is now a realistic target.

Sunderland v Swindon Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The Team...

After netting a wonder striker on Saturday, Jordan Jones was handed his first home league start in a Sunderland shirt since his arrival on Wearside in attacking midfield, with O’Brien taking a place onto the bench.

Conor McLaughlin missing out through injury meant that Max Power was pushed back into the defensive role, with Dion Sanderson and Luke O’Nien both partnering him in the heart of the backline. And, With Grant Leadbitter likely to spend weeks on the sidelines, Carl Winchester came into the starting eleven alongside Josh Scowen in midfield.

First Half Action

From the off, Swindon looked as though their best chances would come from set pieces, with Scott Twine’s early free-kick being the largest test for Lee Burge over the first 45. Twine’s delivery looped over the wall and was diverted away by the gloves of the Sunderland goalie, who then hung on to the shot from the rebound.

That moment declared the start of a period of Sunderland dominance, with Carl Winchester’s shot from long-range floating wide of the left post.

It set an early tone, where Sunderland’s opportunities were limited to a minimum, as Swindon soaked up just under 75% of the possession in the first half.

Arguably, the best chance of the opening 45 came when Gooch easily manoeuvred his way around Jonathan Grounds, before his cut-back picked out Wyke, who poked his effort wide of the right post.

Swindon’s threat came on the counter-attack, and their set-pieces that were tallying up. Scott Twine was proving instrumental from the dead-ball situations, as his free-kick proved less of a trouble for Lee Burge to the one earlier in the first half, dropping into his gloves.

Half Time - Sunderland AFC 0-0 Swindon Town FC

Sunderland v Swindon Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Second Half Action

Lee Johnson’s half-time team-talk had an impact on his side, with our attacking pressure turned up a notch - Lynden Gooch shimmied inside, before his left-footed shot was drilled against the gloves of the goalkeeper.

That proved to be one of Gooch’s last moments of the game, as he was forced off through injury - the latest on a long list. O’Brien replaced him, with Maguire also coming on for Jordan Jones in attack.

After netting a stunning equaliser at Gresty Road on Saturday, Maguire was involved in another goal, as he staked a claim for a starting place with his cross prodded into the bottom left corner by Charlie Wyke for his 24th goal of the season.

Swindon had to express their attacking belief being one-goal down, and they had two brilliant chances to take a point from the Stadium of Light.

Hallam Hope’s one-on-one effort from inside of the penalty area was blocked by the body of Lee Burge on the six-yard line, before in injury time, Scott Twine’s free-kick almost caused more damage, as his set-piece from around 30 yards out rattled the crossbar.

In between those chances, Sunderland used their pace to counter-attack their opponents, who piled more pressure onto the hosts, with a 3v1 situation going begging for the Black Cats, before Maguire’s effort from a 2v1 was bulleted off the legs of the Swindon goalkeeper, but they just about managed to keep hold of all three points.

Full Time - Sunderland AFC 1-0 Swindon Town FC

Sunderland v Swindon Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict

For large swathes of the game it was looking like it was just going to be one of those nights - one of those nights that Sunderland fans have experienced so often recently.

The same old feeling of having large amounts of possession, but being unable to turn that into substantial creative play that could break down a resolute defensive unit.

This time that defensive unit was a Swindon Town side that are lingering around the relegation zone, and have experienced the most defeats in Sky Bet League One.

Like Saturday, it felt like a game that Sunderland of old would have drew 0-0, or conceded a late equaliser - either way, they would have only claimed a point.

With the Black Cats being able to reverse these stereotypes, is it showing that Sunderland are finally capable of completing the final end push for automatic promotion?

Swindon represented the latest challenge that Lee Johnson had to overcome, and within the opening 60 minutes, it was shaping up that the match could have been played for another couple of hours, and no one would have been able to score.

That just symbolises the barrier that the Black Cats needed to overcome, and it represents the enormity of the win that Lee Johnson was able to instigate.

Crewe Alexandra v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Despite spending large parts of the first half sliding the ball along midfield, both goalkeepers were left as spectators, as the goalmouth action was limited to barely zero.

It is no secret that the Black Cats find it hard against the lower-table sides, with their sturdy defensive line something that they find hard to break down, compared to the expressive attacking sides that are able to be broken apart by the Wearsiders.

The win provided relief for both Lee Johnson and goalscorer, Charlie Wyke, who over the past two games has seen his goal spell dry up, but this could be the most significant of his 24 goals this season.

After the final whistle, the League One table represents the significance of the three points, with promotion seeming to be getting closer and closer for Lee Johnson.

This was the ultimate goal when Lee Johnson came to the club in December and, finally, it feels that it is now a realistic target.

With games in hand on teams like Hull, and the gap between the teams shortening, this was an even bigger win, with most of the results going our way - Portsmouth lost, Lincoln lost, but we got the three points.

After all, winning is the most important thing that Sunderland can do at the moment.

It will most likely be the same shift again for the Black Cats - Rochdale will come to the Stadium of Light looking to catch our makeshift defence off guard, and hold onto an advantage.

The Swindon win may seem like a major step forward in Sunderland’s overall promotion push - beat Rochdale, and confidence will be running high ahead of a huge match against Portsmouth.

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