The game ended in heartbreak for Sunderland, who blew a two-goal lead with ten minutes to go at Highbury on Saturday, meaning they could only come away from Fleetwood Town with a 2-2 draw.
A header from Ross Stewart and a penalty from Aiden McGeady had put the Black Cats in the driving seat, but it proved to be a lead that they couldn’t keep hold of, as goals from Callum Morton and Ged Garner snatched a point for Simon Grayson’s team.
After Tom Flanagan’s fifth yellow card of the season last weekend, Lee Johnson was forced into making one alteration, with Bailey Wright lining up alongside Callum Doyle in the centre of defence. Thorben Hoffmann continued between the sticks for the Black Cats, while there was a spot on the bench for fellow deadline day signing, Leon Dajaku.
First Half Action
After last weekend’s victory, confidence was flowing in the Sunderland starting 11, and it was clearly shown in a bright and ferocious start. Ross Stewart had the Black Cats’ first real effort that was nodded straight into the gloves of Alex Cairns.
The Cod Army did pose a threat with their pace and physicality, with a superb double-save from Hoffmann preventing the hosts from taking an early lead. It proved to be Callum Morton who had both, as first, his shot from a ball over the top of the Sunderland defensive line was palmed away by the German, before his header was superbly pushed over the bar.
Despite all of Sunderland’s attacking creativity, it proved to be a simple route to the opening goal – Ross Stewart peeling away from his marker to nod home Embleton’s free-kick into the bottom right corner.
After that, the Black Cats sought to dominate proceedings, with Aiden McGeady looking as threatening as ever, as he weaved forward before powering his shot narrowly over the crossbar.
Then, it was Embleton’s turn to try his chances, as he fizzed a cross across the face of goal, but no one was able to get on the end of it.
After last week’s first goal for the club, Dan Neil looked to make it two in two, but his long-range effort was blazed wide of the right post, in a first half that would have satisfied Lee Johnson and his team.
Half Time - Fleetwood Town 0-1 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
Fleetwood made a half-time substitution in an attempt to cause Sunderland more problems, but it was providing space in the Black Cats’ final third, as McGeady’s effort was brilliant tipped over the bar by Alex Cairns following a free-flowing move.
Fleetwood were attempting to put more pressure onto the home side and should have been level when the ball was slipped through to Callum Morton, who manoeuvred around Carl Winchester, but the full-back recovered well and poked the ball inches wide of the left post.
The Black Cats needed to regain control of the game, and brought on Corry Evans for Dan Neil in the centre of the park to freshen up the midfield. In the most part did, as Sunderland looked to manage the period of pressure from the hosts.
They were soon gifted an opportunity to double their advantage, as Harrison Biggins held Luke O’Nien in the penalty area from McGeady’s corner.
From the spot, McGeady’s penalty proved to be too powerful for Cairns, and it looked like Sunderland were on course to spend yet another Saturday on the top of the table.
But only minutes later, that advantage was halved, and there was life injected back into the game.
Patrick Lane slipped the ball through to Callum Morton, who capped off a brilliant afternoon for the Cod Army by tucking the ball into the bottom left corner and beyond Hoffmann.
From then, Sunderland seemed indecisive and the introduction of Frederik Alves invited even more pressure onto a creaking backline, as Ged Garner’s flick from inside of the six-yard box bounced narrowly wide of the left post.
Hoffmann was looking like he was going to be Sunderland’s hero, as he made another superb save, as he produced a brilliant reaction stop from Morton’s header.
But in the deep stages of added time, a “shambolic” penalty decision for a shirt-tug from Bailey Wright gifted the home side a penalty, which Ged Gardner disposed, as Sunderland lost two points and their spot on the top of the table.
Full Time - Fleetwood Town 2-2 Sunderland AFC
Cruel, disappointing and heart-breaking – maybe Sunderland fans should have expected this ending.
Chance after chance came the way of Fleetwood as Sunderland invited more pressure onto their backline, and after four successive wins with nervy endings, finally the defence cracked.
Historically, trips to Fleetwood have been difficult. Sunderland are winless in their four matches at Highbury, but after 80 minutes on Saturday it felt like this may have been an exception and the outstanding start to the season was going to continue.
In truth, the two-goal lead should have been insummountable for the Cod Army, but the warning signs had been there in the last couple of weeks.
To begin with, Sunderland had a strong attacking threat, both Ross Stewart and Aiden McGeady went close, but Fleetwood utilised long balls over the Sunderland defence and as well as long throw-ins.
The goal came at a perfect time for the Black Cats, as they simply couldn’t punish the home side for the chances that they were being gifted in the final third.
The different substitutions by each manager all had the impact that each were looking for in their introductions, with Lee Johnson looking to ride the Fleetwood storm at the beginning of the second half. The introduction of Corry Evans certainly did that, and two-nil was only just around the corner.
But, pressure after pressure and chance after chance were thrown the way of the Black Cats (some of their own doing) but Hoffmann’s superb saves proved to not be enough, as a controversial “shambolic” penalty decision was converted in fine fashion by Ged Garner, as Highbury erupted.
In truth, a 2-2 draw against Fleetwood isn’t the end of the world for Sunderland; it’s just a minor blip for a side that is still learning – each game is a learning curve for this youthful side and Saturday’s proved to be to learn how to kill games off and the experience of a heart-breaking ending.
After the fantastic start to the season, a blip in form was to be expected, but as we have already seen so far this season, this team has the characteristics to bounce back in style. And it’ll be arguably their hardest, but most their most looked-forward-to, match of the season so far, as they face table-toppers, Wigan Athletic, on Tuesday night for a place in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup.
It’s a quick turn-around for this side, but it will provide players like Leon Dajaku and Frederik Alves, and those that have helped Sunderland get to this stage in the competition, with key match-minutes.
Looking back on Saturday, it’s only the second time in seven league matches where we haven’t came away with the three points, but if anything, don’t get too down-hearted – because this side will bounce back after what feels like a defeat.