Sunderland’s promotion problems increased as they squandered another opportunity to seal a play-off place, with a 1-0 defeat to Blackpool on Tuesday night at the Stadium of Light.
A spectacular strike from Sully Kaikai in the 56th minute was the only piece of quality in the match on a night where Sunderland’s automatic promotion dreams were officially declared over.
Late goals from both Accrington and Crewe meant that Sunderland’s playoff worries became less tense, but Lee Johnson still knows they need to turn their form around in the final two games of the season to have any chance of gaining a promotion that seemed an achievable target only a couple of weeks ago.
Despite extending their winless run to six games at the weekend, Lee Johnson only made a solitary change as Grant Leadbitter replaced Carl Winchester in the centre of midfield. After netting an own goal, Luke O’Nien continued to play in defence alongside Bailey Wright, while Max Power and Denver Hume continued to be fielded in the wing-back roles.
Charlie Wyke was looking to add to his goal tally as he led the line, with Lee Johnson continuing using the same formation that drew 3-3 with Accrington on Saturday afternoon.
First Half Action
Was this possibly the most lacklustre half of League One football?
Despite dominating the opening stages and looking bright, the Black Cats’ threat slowly dwindled away as both sides fell into a period of pedestrian football.
A rare opening appeared after just over 25 minutes, and even that summarised the opening stages. Grant Leadbitter’s long looping ball over the Blackpool defence found Aiden O’Brien, who, on the stretch, sent it into the gloves of Chris Maxwell.
Charlie Wyke tried his luck but, yet again, it didn’t test the Blackpool goalkeeper. His header from Denver Hume’s cross was directed over the bar, before Jerry Yates flashed a shot into the gloves of Lee Burge.
The little information from the first half summarises the story of the first 45 of football, with both sides being cautious not to add more misery onto a sticky patch of form.
Half Time - Sunderland AFC 0-0 Blackpool FC
Second Half Action
A switch of formation at the start of the second half for the Black Cats to a 3-4-3 set-up, and it allowed the game to liven up massively: Sunderland had more of an attacking threat, as Power’s side-footed effort drew a save from Chris Maxwell.
It was much to the credit of Maxwell, that Blackpool didn’t fall behind, as he produced a sensational save to deny Wyke’s downward header after McGeady’s deflected effort was aimed narrowly over the bar.
It always felt like it would be a moment of quality that would break the deadlock, and oh boy was it a piece of quality.
A Blackpool corner was cleared to Sully Kaikai, who powered a shot into the top right corner; Burge no chance, Blackpool ecstatic.
The addition of Ross Stewart provided Sunderland with an alternate form of attack, and he almost played a role in a Sunderland equaliser, as he flicked McGeady’s free-kick across the face of goal, where Charlie Wyke was denied by yet another brilliant save by Maxwell.
Blackpool weren’t fully sitting back on their lead as they pushed for a comfortable margin. Jerry Yates’ right-footed shot was arrowed narrowly wide of the left post.
Sunderland probably should have taken something from the game as they had the opportunities, but they just couldn’t find the goal-scoring touch, as Power’s long-range drive was launched wide of the right post.
Lee Johnson must have been wondering how his side weren’t heading into Saturday’s away trip to Plymouth with more points on the board, as Wyke’s header was clawed away by Maxwell, before Power’s ball across the face of goal was sent goalwards by a Blackpool defender, but it rolled wide of the right post.
All in all, it was another gutting result from a Sunderland perspective, as they just couldn’t find the goals that would have secured their play-off place. However, with other results going our way, only one point from the remaining two games is needed to ensure our ticket for the promotion lottery.
Full Time - Sunderland AFC 0-1 Blackpool FC
It has turned into a period where nothing is going the way of Sunderland.
A six-match winless run was turned into a seven-match winless run, as they secured their place at the bottom of the League One form table. Another defeat added more woes onto the Black Cats, as their automatic promotion fight officially turned into a fight to seal a play-off place.
Some of this may be due to the fact that the luck is definitely not on the side of the Black Cats. Others may say it’s all down to issues that Sunderland are creating for themselves.
On Tuesday, it was more about a lack of an attacking touch yet again.
Credit must be given to Chris Maxwell, who became the second goalkeeper in a couple of matches to produce some exceptional saves to deny Lee Johnson’s side, but with the creativity that the Black Cats have they should have found a way through.
Blackpool’s defensive set-up in their 5-4-1 approach putting bodies behind the ball didn’t make the task any easy for the Black Cats, but within an opening 45 performance, the Black Cats didn’t attempt to carve open the Tangerines’ backline.
The lacklustre nature of the first half was more satisfaction to the defence than anyone else, but neither side pushed themselves out of second, possibly third, gear.
The defeat increased Sunderland’s woes, on the same day had Dion Sanderson ruled out for the rest of the season.
Since Sanderson’s omission from the squad, the Black Cats’ defensive issues have increased, but it wasn’t due to the Black Cats’ defence that Sunderland lost the vital goal on Tuesday.
It was a moment of quality from Sully Kaikai that proved to be the decisive moment in the match, but there is no doubt that Sunderland should have gained something from the 90 minutes.
It just proves how costly not taking chances are. Overall, it is the story of Sunderland’s past two to three weeks.
They just haven’t been clinical enough to secure an automatic promotion place and it has led to Lee Johnson’s side finding themselves in something of a scrap.
The quality that Sunderland have in their ranks should be enough to guide them into the playoffs, but the task of gaining promotion is becoming increasingly difficult given the momentum that the side did have has petered out.
A trip to Plymouth is next up for the Black Cats in what is Sunderland’s final regular away game of the season – but with the playoffs looking likely, who knows where our final away game of the season will be. Here’s hoping it’s Wembley.