Hours after the Wembley virtual ticket initiative reached £100,000, Sunderland cashed in on three points, with headers from Dion Sanderson and Charlie Wyke helped Lee Johnson’s side to a 2-0 win over Rochdale.
Sunderland’s clinical nature propelled them to a two-goal lead before half time, but the second half produced a simple, professional and composed performance from the Black Cats, as they controlled their two-nil advantage.
Oliver Younger was given his League One debut in a Sunderland shirt as he came into the Black Cats’ patched-up defensive line. Jordan Jones kept his place in the starting eleven, with Aiden O’Brien coming back into the side, with Lynden Gooch missing out after picking up an injury on Tuesday night against Swindon Town.
Lee Johnson reverted back to a back four, with Younger starting at right-back with Sanderson and O’Nien creating a partnership in the centre of defence.
First Half Action
Dion Sanderson has impressed recently in a Sunderland shirt, and he gained his first senior goal this afternoon as McGeady’s cross from the left was directed past the goalkeeper by the Sunderland defender.
Only moments later, Sunderland continued their attacking threat, as McFadzean’s cross into the six-yard box was spilled by the Rochdale goalkeeper, before Jordan Jones’ rebound was blocked.
Despite being second-bottom heading into Saturday, Rochdale have scored more goals than Ipswich Town this season, and showed off their attacking creativity as Kwadwo Baah was found through a long, looping ball. His first slack touch allowed defensive cover from the Black Cats, before his second touch sent a shot goalwards that was blocked by Luke O’Nien.
A period of the first half was controlled by Rochdale, who arguably had the better opportunities to score the second goal, with Eoghan O’Connell’s long-range curling shot was straight into the gloves of Lee Burge.
Sunderland’s goal advantage was only established with Rochdale’s lack of a goalscoring touch, as their best chance of the first half came when Ryan McLaughlin’s cross picked out Jimmy Keohane, who angled his attempt over the bar.
The Black Cats were simply the more clinical side, as their second goal came from a familiar source. It was the similar treatment for Wyke, but a different provider, as Jones’ teasing cross found the Sunderland striker, whose downward header beat the Rochdale goalkeeper.
Half Time - Sunderland AFC 2-0 Rochdale AFC
Second Half Action
Sunderland looked for a third goal that would have definitely pushed the lead out of Rochdale’s sight, with Jones’ cross looking to find Wyke for a second time, but former-Sunderland defender Paul McShane sent the ball over the crossbar.
A double substitution was made by Lee Johnson with Oliver Younger’s impressive debut being called to a halt, and Carl Winchester was unable to continue through injury, as Chris Maguire and Josh Scowen were introduced into the fold.
A decisive moment in the second half came when Rochdale could have halved Sunderland’s lead, as a clever free-kick routine found Stephen Humphrys - who found space inside of the penalty area - but his shot was fired against the chest of Lee Burge, before dropping away from danger.
Chris Maguire was almost involved in another goal, as his free-kick almost caught the goalkeeper off guard, but it was cheekily curled inches over the top of the crossbar.
After gaining an impressive assist for Wyke’s goal, Jordan Jones was removed from action, with Jack Diamond coming on for the attacker.
With the clock ticking down, Rochdale began to push more numbers into attack, and that option almost reeked rewards, as Conor Shaughnessy’s volley was bobbled in and then out of the gloves of Lee Burge, before being sent up the pitch back for a Sunderland attack.
Despite another hefty amount of injury time, Sunderland produced a controlling final display with the Black Cats maintaining their two-goal advantage, keeping up the pace with the table-toppers.
Full Time - Sunderland AFC 2-0 Rochdale AFC
It is no secret that Tuesday night’s match against Portsmouth is one of the most important and significant games under Johnson’s reign.
The Black Cats have never beaten Pompey at Fratton Park during their drop to the third tier, but is this the best opportunity that they will get?
Portsmouth suffered a devastating 4-1 defeat against Northampton Town on Saturday afternoon, as pressure begins to mount on manager Kenny Jackett.
For Sunderland, it is the complete opposite picture, with the Black Cats producing a sustainable and impressive run of form.
They have won five of the last six matches, and are looking like they have what it takes for automatic promotion, despite it not seeming so only a couple of weeks ago.
On Saturday, a 2-0 victory over Rochdale may now look like a convincing win, but for a spell in the first half it was a case of backs against the wall, as Rochdale just didn’t possess that goalscoring touch.
If Rochdale weren’t clinical, Sunderland definitely were - two goals and two headers put the Black Cats into the driving seat, and they were able to well control that lead.
That is something that Lee Johnson side is able to do against the teams in the lower-depths of League One, as their control over their opponents was something to be admired, despite not increasing their goal tally.
Lee Johnson reiterated in his pre-match press conference that Sunderland shouldn’t be relying on Charlie Wyke for the goals, and it seems that other players are chipping in to the goal tally.
Of course, Wyke is having an outstanding season - something which both he and Lee Johnson recognise - but it is always nice to see other players put their name into the spotlight.
One player that has done that since his arrival on Wearside is Dion Sanderson - his quality since coming into the side has placed him as one of Sunderland’s main centre-backs.
His chance was provided to him after Jordan Willis’ injury against Shrewsbury, and oh boy, has he taken it.
Burge will gain the credit for the saves that he makes, but Sanderson has to take some credit for the reduction of opportunities that Burge has to defend against.
A routine win against Rochdale will be out of our minds rather quickly, but a win over Portsmouth will mean a lot to Sunderland’s promotion hopes as the season progresses.
It will provide the Black Cats with confidence - heading into a tough couple of weeks, as Lee Johnson’s side make trips to other promotion contenders.
On Tuesday night, Lee Johnson has the players and creativity that is able to hurt Pompey, and on their day, there should be no reason why Sunderland can’t win what is likely to be a gritty encounter.