Burton Albion inflicted Sunderland’s first defeat of the League One season as Lee Johnson’s side were left to rue missed opportunities in a 1-0 defeat at the Pirelli Stadium on Tuesday night.
Jonny Smith’s 66th-minute strike proved to be the only goal in a game where it felt like there was only going to be one goal that would decide it.
There was just one change to the side that beat MK Dons on Saturday, with Luke O’Nien returning from illness, as the injured Corry Evans dropped out. The main news focused around two new arrivals, as both Frederik Alves and Nathan Broadhead had a place on the bench, with Ross Stewart continuing to lead the line after netting in his last two successive appearances. Dennis Cirkin started yet again in the left-back role for Lee Johnson, with Carl Winchester continuing to play on the opposite side.
First Half Action
A great atmosphere at the Pirelli was greeted with an array of early opportunities for both teams, with Burton recording the first chance of the game, with Thomas O’Connor’s low-drive being drilled wide of the right post.
Sunderland dominated most of the early battles and should have probably been one-goal up early on as a long clearance from a Burton corner was missed by Mancienne - it allowed McGeady to spin away, but after his darting run towards goal, his clever dink over Ben Garratt was palmed wide of the right post.
Lee Johnson’s side began to turn it up a notch, with yet another chance falling the way of the visitors as Flanagan’s curling ball forward picked out Stewart, but his shot was beaten against the gloves of the Burton goalkeeper.
The Black Cats had full control of proceedings at the Pirelli, and produced some threatening and brilliant play as Gooch provided McGeady with a chance to make up for his error earlier in the half, but his low effort from the left side of the penalty area was tipped narrowly around the right post.
Burton began to grow into the game and saw more of the ball within the final third areas, and Omari Patrick had the Brewers’ first real opportunity, as his shot from around six yards out was fired narrowly wide of the right post.
Sunderland arguably should have had the opening goal before the half-time interval, as two chances went begging for the away side. First, Embleton’s teasing cross was touched goalwards by Ross Stewart, but his knock-on was denied by the goalkeeper.
Then, Embleton was involved again, as his left-footed effort dipped just over the bar, as surprisingly, both sides went into the half-time break level.
Half Time - Burton Albion 0-0 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
After an entertaining first half, the second period began in similar fashion, as end-to-end football mounted into a tonne of chances at both ends of the pitch - with Burton looking even more threatening in attack as Lucas Akins’ effort being blocked by a diving Luke O’Nien inside of the penalty area.
The Brewers knocked on the door yet again, as Powell’s curling free-kick was sent into the penalty area, but Shaughnessy’s free header was unable to be diverted under the bar.
Despite Burton’s increased amount of pressure, Sunderland also looked like they had a goal in them, as Winchester’s left-footed driven shot was met by the gloves of Ben Garrett in the Burton goal.
It always felt like a moment of quality would change the game, and so it proved, as Jonny Smith’s curling left-footed effort beat Lee Burge and planted itself into the top left corner.
After the goal, it only felt as if Burton would double their advantage, as Mancienne’s ferocious drive was drilled wide of the left post.
Sunderland looked to push more bodies forward in able to salvage a point, and they almost profited from that, as McGeady rolled the ball to Alex Pritchard, whose side-footed effort was sent inches wide of the left post.
However, they almost paid the ultimate price, as Jonny Smith had a similar effort to his goal, but this time the luck proved to be on the side of the Black Cats, as his effort struck the left post.
Ben Garratt was proving to be Burton’s hero at the back, as he denied Pritchard’s curling right-footed effort from around 25 yards out.
A moment of controversy at the end of the match proved decisive for Sunderland as one point was snatched away from them - Gooch’s cross from the left was nodded home by Tom Flanagan, who was deemed to be in an offside position by the assistant, as Sunderland were left to rue missed chances.
Full Time - Burton Albion 1-0 Sunderland AFC
In League One, those type of days will come, and on Tuesday, it proved to be just one of those nights where Sunderland couldn’t convert their opportunities into goals.
It’s been a common trend over recent seasons that chances have been unable to be converted into goals, but on Tuesday, it proved to be a night where a moment of quality proved decisive.
It wasn’t a game where Sunderland didn’t perform to their best and they didn’t have chances, but a mix between brilliant goalkeeping and a lack of ruthlessness ultimately cost Sunderland.
The late moment of controversy denied Sunderland a point, but in football, those decisions will often go against you, and it’s ultimately the response that matters.
Positivity is still high despite a first defeat of the season, after the new style of play from this team and plan that the club has behind the scenes, combined with the new signings into the club.
The addition of Nathan Broadhead was brought even more optimism on Wearside, with a new striker as back-up to Ross Stewart blending into the youthful, talented model that the club is now looking at.
He played a late cameo on Tuesday, but found it hard to put his stamp onto a frantic final stage of the match as he was unable to make it a dream debut in the red-and-white.
Yes, fans may feel a bit disappointed and frustrated that Lee Johnson’s side came away from the Pirelli empty-handed, but this side already feels different and like it can bounce back easily.
That response will begin on Saturday, as AFC Wimbledon make the trip to the Stadium of Light, in hope of the three points, but there is no doubt that this team will respond.
Being back at the Stadium of Light will prove as a relief to Lee Johnson, after three matches away, and as mentioned before the Burton game, the team will need the full backing of the fans this season.
But, for now, Tuesday’s defeat may just be a bump in the road, and after the flurry of chances that the Black Cats had, it’s important not to get too down-heartened, because this new Sunderland team has what it takes to bounce back.