Sunderland lost a third consecutive League One match for the first time since they dropped into the third tier of English football, as they didn’t score for the first time since January 2nd in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Blackpool.
It means that automatic promotion is realistically over for the Black Cats, as the gap between themselves and Peterborough opened to eight points, with the battle for third place now taking centre-stage for Lee Johnson’s side.
Luke Garbutt’s deflected strike proved to be the only goal of the match, as Blackpool kept the heat on the Black Cats in the play-off race.
In response to Sunderland’s 2-1 defeat to Wigan Athletic on Tuesday evening, Lee Johnson made three changes to the starting 11, which resulted in a change to his preferred 4-4-2 formation. Dion Sanderson was missing with a back injury, with Luke O’Nien partnering Bailey Wright in defence, while Callum McFadzean replaced Denver Hume in the left-back role. Max Power was moved back into the right-back slot, as Grant Leadbitter partnered Josh Scowen in the centre of midfield. Furthermore, Chris Maguire was brought back into the squad, as Aiden O’Brien replaced Jack Diamond in attack.
First Half Action
Sunderland enjoyed lots of early possession, but were unable to create anything concrete in the opening stages, and the defence had to be switched on to keep Blackpool at bay – Bailey Wright diverted Turton’s right-footed cross over the bar.
Lee Johnson’s side grew into the match as the first half progressed, as they looked to exploit attacking areas. The midfield controlled proceedings with their precise passing and composure in the centre of the park.
The Black Cats’ best chance of a rather lacklustre opening 45 saw a long ball being played over the Blackpool backline for Jordan Jones, but he couldn’t send the ball goal-wards, as it rolled into the gloves of Chris Maxwell.
Arguably, Sunderland were given a let-off by their opponents, as Ellis Simms gained the ball inside of the 18-yard box, after McGeady was dispossessed, but his shot was hammered over the bar.
As the first half came to a conclusion, Johnson’s side looked more of a danger on the attack, but Blackpool themselves looked threatening in the final third of the pitch.
Half Time - Blackpool FC 0-0 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
Sunderland controlled the early stages of the second half, and should have been one-goal up, when McGeady’s right-footed shot from inside of the penalty area was curled against the right post
That proved to be the turning point in the match, as only about a minute later, Sunderland switched off and Blackpool gained the crucial goal.
Grant Leadbitter’s stray pass dropped to the feet of Sully Kaikai, who fed Luke Garbutt, before his deflected effort deceived Lee Burge and wriggled under the legs of the Sunderland goalkeeper and into the bottom corner.
Sunderland’s task of getting back into the match was almost made a lot tougher, as McFadzean should have been shown a second yellow card, for his challenge of Mitchell in the final third.
The referee decided not to give the full-back a red card, and McFadzean was promptly replaced by Denver Hume.
It took Sunderland a while to get into their stride, and should have brought the game level, when the Blackpool goalkeeper dropped a cross in the six-yard box, but O’Nien’s shot was cleared off the line by Ballard.
Despite looking to defend their one-goal lead, the Tangerines had opportunities to extend their advantage, as Mitchell’s shot was beaten away by Lee Burge.
Sunderland were looking to avoid losing a third consecutive match, but they were going to have to test the goalkeeper more than what they were doing, as Scowen’s driven shot was scooped away by Maxwell.
The attacking push saw Lee Johnson’s side throw bodies into the final third, winning corners and free-kicks, but the closest we got was when Power slipped the ball through to O’Nien, however the defender was in an offside position.
After seven minutes of added time, the Blackpool defence went rather untroubled, and Sunderland’s drop in form reached a new low as they lost a third consecutive League One match.
Full Time - Blackpool FC 1-0 Sunderland AFC
The current predicament that both clubs found themselves in meant that it was always going to be a tight game between two sides that may become familiar to each other by the end of the season.
Before the match, the Black Cats knew that they simply needed to respond after devastating back-to-back defeats to Charlton and Wigan.
They needed to claim three points to make sure that they were still on the coat tails of the top two in the division.
Meanwhile, Blackpool knew that the gap between themselves and seventh-placed Charlton became smaller on Tuesday night, and they needed three points to make sure their play-off battle remains on track.
For both of those reasons, both sides needed the three points, and a close encounter it turned out to be.
The only goal of the game proved to be a costly one for Sunderland, and arguably the most costly error from a Sunderland goalkeeper this season.
It should have been an easy save for Lee Burge; maybe the deflection made it slightly more harder, but still it should have been a save that the Sunderland goalkeeper should have been capable to make.
All in all, it proved to be the decisive blow in Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes, and one that probably is the difference between the automatic promotion spots and the play-off places.
If the Black Cats were to have claimed three points, it may have meant that they were still in with a shout for automatic promotion.
Both Hull and Peterborough have Charlton and Lincoln to play - two tough sides that have caused problems to Sunderland over recent weeks and things to play for.
Now, the gap is realistically far too great for Sunderland to catch both the Posh and the Tigers, even if the Black Cats were to win their last five matches.
On Saturday, it showed how a blip in concentration can cost Sunderland - just like it had in the previous two matches.
Just when they seemed to be in the ascendancy, they switched off and that mistake from Lee Burge confirmed another defeat for Lee Johnson’s side.
A couple of weeks ago, Tuesday’s match against Hull was arguably the biggest of April, but as the month has progressed the significances has reduced, and it looks as if the play offs await.