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Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light

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Finlay’s Match Report: Sunderland finish 4th - onward we go into the Play-Offs!

Sunderland drew with Northampton today at the sunny SoL, which means they’ve finished 4th in League One - now, Lincoln City await Lee Johnson’s men in the Play-Offs!

Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

The Team...

Despite focusing on the play-offs in the next couple of weeks, Lee Johnson didn’t make tonnes of changes, with the only one coming as Charlie Wyke returned to the side in place of Ross Stewart, who has a hamstring injury.

Aiden McGeady also returned to the squad after missing last week’s 3-1 victory over Plymouth Argyle, but only had a place on the bench. Bailey Wright continued to partner Luke O’Nien in the heart of defence, despite being plunged back into first team action after returning from injury only a couple of weeks ago.


First Half Action

For the second successive match at the Stadium of Light, it was a lacklustre and cagey first half affair from both sides, who had no quality in attack.

Chances came at a premium, with one of the only opportunities of the first half coming within the first couple of minutes - Jordan Jones weaved his way into a shooting position just outside of the penalty area, but his shot drew the save from the Northampton goalkeeper.

It was a bright start from the Black Cats, as Gooch’s cross was floated goalwards - forcing the Cobblers’ goalkeeper to tip the ball over the bar.

From there, the quality that Lee Johnson’s side possessed dropped dramatically, with there being little to separate both sides - two teams with clearly nothing to play for.

Just before the interval, Max Power carried the ball from midfield, but his shot summarised the opening 45 as it was dragged wide of the left post - leaving the Northampton goalkeeper rather untested.

Half Time - Sunderland AFC 0-0 Northampton Town

Sunderland v Blackpool - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Second Half Action

A half-time change for Sunderland saw Lee Johnson bring on Aiden McGeady for Jack Diamond, as the Black Cats looked to enhance their attacking poise.

From the half time interval, the Black Cats played with more attacking intent, with Jordan Jones carrying the ball forward before dinking it around the Northampton goalkeeper - but it struck against the side-netting.

Northampton did have opportunities of their own, as a corner kick delivery found Ryan Watson, whose header drifted narrowly wide of the left post.

After coming on, Aiden O’Brien almost played a part in the opening goal of the match, as his shot from around 20 yards out was fired over the bar.

He almost provided Jordan Jones with his fourth goal for the club, as he fed Jones just inside of the penalty area, before he unleashed a shot miles over the crossbar.

Lee Johnson’s side were thrown a huge setback in their battle to hold onto 4th, as the Cobblers took the lead in unfortunate circumstances. Hoskins’ free-kick from around 20 yards out deflected off the leg of Grant Leadbitter - wrong-footing Lee Burge, who could only palm the ball into the roof of the net.

The Sunderland manager would have required a response, and that is what he got as Sunderland turned their misfortunate into luck, as Jones’ shot cannoned off both the left and the right post, before Winchester poked the ball into the bottom right corner.

1-1 it stayed at the Stadium of Light, and the play-offs await...

Full Time - Sunderland AFC 1-1 Northampton Town

Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict

Pre-match, Lee Johnson stated that Sunday’s clash with Northampton Town would be a “warm-up” for the play-offs: a dress rehearsal before a heavily-significant semi-final campaign.

He stated that he would use the match as an opportunity to “get us up to our best” ahead of the two-legged semi-final tie, but in all fairness, Sunday produced a rather tame performance, where the Black Cats simply didn’t test the Northampton goalkeeper enough to secure the three points.

Johnson also wanted to “secure home advantage” for the play-offs, but even if the performance wasn’t as great on Sunday afternoon, he knows that his team at least secured that important home second-leg.

With Lincoln being their opponent over two legs, the home advantage in the second match between the two may mean nothing, with both teams holding a terrific away record to warrant the home advantage being abolished.

Out of all of the three sides to face, Lincoln will be the one that would provide Sunderland fans with the most confidence, with Sunderland showing their class in the regular league away match in December and two cagey affairs at home in both the league and the Papa John’s Trophy.

Furthermore, the semi-final will see two teams with similar runs of form over recent weeks going head to head - Lincoln only have one win in their last five, whilst Sunderland, one in their last nine.

The opportunity of a play-off clash with Oxford still remains on the horizon, with Karl Robinson’s side being a potential opponent in the final if Sunderland manoeuvre their way past Michael Appleton’s Lincoln.

Meanwhile, if Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Northampton is anything to go by, no one would be fearful of facing Sunderland, and they should find themselves lucky to be in the play-offs.

The Black Cats just didn’t really unleash themselves out of the blocks in such a force that knocked Northampton, but instead, casually played the ball around: a clear end-of-the-season match on a sunny day on Wearside.

Charlie Wyke returned back into the starting 11, but hardly saw anything of the ball, with the quality of crosses into the penalty area being poor, and the quality within the final third being non-existent.

McGeady was added back into the fold after missing last weekend’s trip to Plymouth but his second half cameo was underwhelming, with Northampton doing their best to limit the service that the Irishman was able to provide.

Their lack of an attacking touch did prove to be penalised through the Sam Hoskins free-kick in the latter stages of the contest, but an equaliser from Carl Winchester gave the former Forest Green Rovers midfielder with his first goal in a Sunderland shirt.

All in all, Lee Johnson has a lot to work on over the course of the next ten days, before both Lincoln and Sunderland do battle at Sincil Bank in the first of the two play-off semi-final legs.

But, until then, Sunderland fans must reorganise their schedules for Saturday 22nd May, as 10,000 fans will return to the Stadium of Light for the second leg.

It will give Lee Johnson’s side with a colossal boost, but it will only help if they remain in the play-off semi-final.

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