Sunderland ground out a vitally important point at the Weston Homes Stadium on Easter Monday, as they came from behind to draw 1-1 with second-placed Peterborough United.
It was a moment of brilliance from Aiden McGeady to claim Sunderland a significant point that keeps them within distance of the automatic promotion spots, after Siriki Dembele had put Darren Ferguson’s side into the lead.
Ross Stewart made his first start in a Sunderland shirt at the Weston Homes Stadium, as he partnered Charlie Wyke up front, which was one of three changes that Lee Johnson made ahead of the Easter Monday clash with the Posh.
Max Power was pushed back into the right-back role, with Conor McLaughlin dropping to the bench - allowing Grant Leadbitter to replace him in the centre of midfield.
The third switch also came in the middle of the park, as Josh Scowen stepped down to the bench and Carl Winchester provided fresh legs alongside Leadbitter.
Also, Denver Hume replaced Chris Maguire on the bench, appearing in the matchday squad for the first time since his return.
First Half Action
Sunderland began the match on the front foot, and held the majority of possession during the opening stages. Charlie Wyke had one of the best chances of the first half after around ten minutes on the clock, when Stewart’s knock-down found the striker, but Wyke’s half-volley was arrowed narrowly wide of the right post.
The Posh didn’t look like a resolute unit at the back, with Aiden McGeady was looking to create problems for their defence, as his right-footed effort collided with the head of Mark Beevers a couple of inches from the goal line.
Peterborough slowly grew into the match, and had the better of the opportunities in the first half, all coming in the final stages, beginning with Louis Reed’s long-range effort being sent into the gloves of Lee Burge.
A number of Peterborough’s attacks came as a result of Sunderland creating their own issues, as Sammie Szmodics was given acres of space on the right of the penalty area, but his shot was blocked by the chest of Luke O’Nien.
O’Nien was then at the heart of the best opening of the first half, but at the opposite end to the one he’d have hoped. A cross from Harrison Burrows into the penalty area was diverted back towards his own goal by the Sunderland defender - causing Burge to scramble across his goal line, and steer the ball away.
Half Time - Peterborough United 0-0 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
It was a second half where chances were aplenty; the better falling to the home side.
Sammie Szmodics’ volley from Dion Sanderson’s clearance was arrowed over the bar, early in the second half - setting the tone for a second period, where Peterborough should have probably put the game to bed.
Despite the threat the Posh posed, Sunderland also had their moments, supplied by a front line that has the ability to turn the game on its head in an instant, with Charlie Wyke forcing Christy Pym into a quick-fire save.
This pressure intensified, as Aiden McGeady almost broke the deadlock, when his free-kick was curled narrowly against the side-netting of the Posh goal.
Peterborough though, began to turn the screw on Sunderland, and the away side had Lee Burge to thank for keeping the score goalless by producing inspirational saves. Sammie Szmodics should have put Darren Ferguson’s side ahead but he rolled his effort wide of the Lee Burge’s goal.
The momentum was beginning to swing in the way of the home side, and their reward maybe inevitably arrived through one of Darren Ferguson’s substitutes. Nathan Thompson drew Max Power out of his right-back role, before feeding in Siriki Dembele - in acres of space, allowing him to confidently roll the ball into the bottom right corner.
The advantage almost doubled when Jonson Clarke-Harris’ shot was sent goalwards, but Luke O’Nien put his body on the line to defend Lee Burge’s goal. The most pivotal save from Lee Burge came when he denied Sammie Szmodics from a tight angle inside of the penalty area, as a second goal appeared on the horizon.
Some fans may have been shocked at the introduction of Josh Scowen, but his presence won the free-kick that led to the important equaliser. After being tripped within shooting distance from goal, Aiden McGeady took control and produced a moment of absolute brilliance - curling the ball over the wall and past Christy Pym.
It could have been a fantastic end to the match, as Sunderland went within inches of taking the lead, as Power’s cross was sent onto the post through a combination of Kent and Beevers, but the spoils were perhaps fairly shared and Sunderland’s automatic promotion charge continues.
Full Time - Peterborough United 1-1 Sunderland AFC
It’s those moments in football that are worthy of three points. On this occasion, it proved to be only one point, but it feels like three points on the passage of play and the significance of the point gained.
An absolutely outstanding free-kick from Aiden McGeady shows exactly what the Black Cats were missing at the start of the season - his creativity, magic and composure are just a couple of special attributes that he possesses.
Sunderland probably wouldn’t be in the promotion battle if McGeady had been with the squad from the start of the season; they would arguably be well clear at the top of the table.
Against a team with only two defeats at home all season, a point is probably the most significant point over the course of the past three seasons in League One. The ‘1-1’ scoreline has so often been Sunderland’s downfall in the first two seasons in League One, but in this instance, a 1-1 draw against a fellow-promotion contender could be massive at the end of the season.
Of course, the performance didn’t hit the standards that were set by performances against the likes of Portsmouth and Doncaster, but like previous weeks, the points on the boards is more important than the performance on the day.
On Monday, Lee Johnson’s side controlled large parts of the match, but they didn’t really pose a large threat to the Posh backline, with the home side creating the better of the opportunities.
As the game progressed, Peterborough gained more control of the match, in large stages, but the Sunderland defence was proving resolute, and generally keeping Darren Ferguson’s side quiet.
The defensive structure is also beginning to grow from strength to strength, as Sanderson and O’Nien helped to keep the league’s top scorer Jonson Clarke-Harris quiet, and limit the opportunities that the home side had.
It proved to be the left-back role, where Sunderland were caused the most problems, with Callum McFadzean being caught out on numerous occasions, and the threat of Siriki Dembele causing more concern when he was introduced as a substitute.
Now, Sunderland move onto yet another huge match, as Nigel Adkins’ Charlton Athletic visit the Stadium of Light in another League One game with huge gains and even bigger losses at stake at the top of the table.
After going another match unbeaten, momentum is still flowing and confidence is still high and promotion still seems within distance.