Sunderland are top of League One ahead of their international break thanks to a 3-1 victory over Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday afternoon.
It was arguably the most impressive display so far this season from the Black Cats, as they produced three moments of quality to dispatch a Wycombe side that struggled to convert their pressure in the final third into chances.
A brace from Ross Stewart and a fabulous strike from Elliot Embleton capped off another brilliant afternoon for Lee Johnson’s side, even if they couldn’t hold out for a clean sheet due to David Wheeler’s deflected effort late on.
After last weekend’s victory over AFC Wimbledon, Lee Johnson made only the solitary alteration for the weekend’s game against Wycombe, as Dennis Cirkin replaced Alex Pritchard, with Dan Neil moving into central midfield, alongside former-Chairboy, Luke O’Nien. There proved to be no place in the starting 11 for Aiden O’Brien, who had to wait for his moment from the bench, as Ross Stewart continued to lead the line, with both captain, Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch partnering Elliot Embleton just behind the main target-man.
First Half Action
The Chairboys almost survived last season during their historic first Championship campaign, but unfortunately for them, they dropped back into the third tier. But their quality was on display in the opening stages at the Stadium of Light.
They dominated the opening proceedings and started much the brighter, as Sunderland were unable to maintain any sort of possession or push out of Wycombe’s final third.
Gareth Ainsworth’s side had the first chance of the match, as Scowen’s cross found Vokes, whose header was just too high for the visitors.
Sunderland rode their luck at times, but produced their own moment of quality, as Embleton’s left-footed cross was prodded into the bottom right corner by the head of Ross Stewart.
Their second goal was just around the corner, and it came with even more finesse, as Embleton played a one-two with Gooch, before regaining possession and curling an effort past David Stockdale and into the far corner.
Wycombe may have found themselves in even more trouble, and a man short, as Luke O’Nien appeared to be struck in the face by the arm of Daryl Horgan in the Wycombe half, but neither of the officials believed it warranted any action.
After going two goals down, the visitors continued to apply more pressure but were unable to test Anthony Patterson regularly enough. Sullay Kaikai did have a shot that was looking to be heading wide of the left post cleared by Carl Winchester as the half-time interval approached, and the break came at a welcome time for both Lee Johnson and Gareth Ainsworth.
Half Time - Sunderland AFC 2-0 Wycombe Wanderers
Second Half Action
Lee Johnson’s side continued the second half with the same positive vain that they showed after the first ten minutes within the first period, with Winchester’s first-time shot being fizzed into the gloves of David Stockdale.
A well-worked free-kick routine for the away side almost paid dividends, but Sullay Kaikai’s effort sailed miles over Patterson’s crossbar.
Being two goals down, Gareth Ainsworth called upon new reinforcements and looked to throw on a more physical type of threat in the form of Adebayo Akinfenwa.
He almost halved the deficit, as a long-kick from Stockdale found the striker, who flicked the ball over Callum Doyle, before his volley was looped into the gloves of Patterson.
From almost reducing the advantage to only one to the game being put to bed, Sunderland’s third goal effectively sealed the three points for the Black Cats, and relieved any stress that the home supporters may have had.
It proved to be the most well-worked goal, with Neil orchestrating a one-two with Embleton, leaving three Wycombe players behind, before finding Stewart, who fired the ball into the roof of Stockdale’s goal.
Gareth Ainsworth’s side did find a consolation, but that’s all it proved to be, as David Wheeler’s drive took a wicked deflection from Bailey Wright and wrong-footed Patterson, but it proved to be another impressive performance from Lee Johnson’s side, as they ended the day top of Sky Bet League One.
Full Time - Sunderland AFC 3-1 Wycombe Wanderers
“We are top of the league” chanted the Sunderland fans with 84 minutes on the clock.
Not only did it accurately reference Sunderland’s current league position, but shows the optimism that the fans have with this new era at the club.
Top of the league with five games gone, and four wins from those, confidence is running high on Wearside and it was shown by the post-match reaction at the Stadium of Light.
The connection that the players have with the fans is making confidence even higher at the start of a season that really needs to go the way of the Black Cats.
Lee Johnson has his side playing an attractive, flowing brand of football that is lovely to watch from a fan’s perspective, with the players bedding in very nicely to the style of football.
On Saturday, Sunderland focused a lot more on defensive solidity than they have over recent League One fixtures, as Wycombe showed their class in parts, but were unable to convert their pressure into clear-cut opportunities, as the Lads produced three moments of quality that proved decisive.
In the first ten minutes, it felt like it would be a tough ask of the home side to take all three points, but if ever the first goal was crucial in a match, it proved so on Saturday, as the tide really did turn.
A brilliant header from versatile Ross Stewart, and a wonderful strike from Embleton, put a two-goal cushion between themselves and Gareth Ainsworth’s side, with Patterson remaining mostly untroubled throughout the contest.
The introduction of Akinfenwa did provide the Sunderland defence with an additional threat from his strength, and it proved to be another task that the Doyle-Flanagan partnership was able to accomplish.
Most of all, first place is now Sunderland’s and we are in the automatic promotion spots for the first time since April 2019.
It caps off a month, where expectations have been exceeded dramatically, considering the slow process in the transfer window and the disappointing end to the last campaign.
The unity that the players, staff, and the fans now have is something that, if retained, will provide the side with more motivation heading into a couple of tough months.
Now it’s a two-week international break for the Black Cats. Lee Johnson would have wanted the winning momentum to continue at Hillsborough next weekend, but international call-ups have the squad put pay to that fixture.
As August comes to an end, then, Sunderland are top of the table, and with optimism running high on Wearside, surely things can only get better for the Black Cats!