As we approach the all-important end of the 2020/21 League One campaign, Oxford United were the latest visitors to the Stadium Of Light - and with about a quarter of the season left to play, the charge for automatic promotion is becoming increasingly tense.
There is no room for errors if we are to avoid the lottery that is the play-offs.
Generally, Lee Johnson has done a remarkable job since taking over as Sunderland manager. He brings a certain dynamic, which previous managers Phil Parkinson and Jack Ross failed to bring. It is the attacking philosophy of football that makes you believe that we can continue to win week in, week out.
The gaffer opted for two changes from the side that beat Bristol Rovers 1-0 a week earlier. This saw Conor McLaughlin replace Carl Winchester and Jordan Jones’ return from injury meant that he took Aiden O’Brien’s place in the starting squad. Most supporters will be hopeful that we will be able to bring Jones in on a permanent deal in the summer, having impressed during his initial loan spell on Wearside.
Oxford also had some key names in their starting eleven, with the likes of Cameron Brannagan, James Henry and Matty Taylor all worth keeping an eye on. It was certainly going to be a difficult game but equally a great opportunity to prove why we are serious title contenders.
The first opportunity of the game came when Aiden McGeady’s corner found Jordan Jones in space but he was unable to provide a finish. It was a fairly even contest until the twentieth minute, which was when the visitors netted the opening goal. Oxford countered with pace through the centre of the field where the ball found James Henry, who cannoned a tremendous effort into the corner of the Sunderland net.
Unfortunately for us, it was just an excellently taken goal, which meant we had it all to do.
Aiden McGeady almost equalised but his venomous free-kick effort was stopped by Stevens. However, just before half-time Sunderland found an equaliser.
Some clever footwork on the wing from Jordan Jones allowed him to fire a great ball into the box, which Lynden Gooch stabbed home to level the scoring.
The visitors went down to men in the second half as Sykes was given a second yellow card for a dangerous foul on Luke O’Nien. Sunderland almost took advantage of this but Lynden Gooch fired his effort just wide of the post.
We came close to scoring once again when Jordan Jones rattled the crossbar from distance. Lee Johnson showed his intention to claim maximum points when he brought Ross Stewart on for Conor McLaughlin. Sunderland eventually took the lead when Gooch found McGeady, who slammed his effort home from the edge of the box. The game was then wrapped up right at the death when Max Power slotted in from close range.
Personally, I believe that we should continue to focus on our own performances rather than hoping that the other teams around us slip up. As long as we are winning our games, it should not matter what the other sides are doing.
Not too many games remain and at this point we need each individual player to chip in. We need to maintain faith in Lee Johnson’s methodologies and stay optimistic that he will guide us to Championship football.