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Sunderland v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League One

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Finlay’s Report: Sunderland make huge statement of intent in five-star show against Cheltenham

It was a perfect night at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland battered Cheltenham. Our junior reporter Finlay Anderson reviews the action.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

As automatic promotion statements go, this was a pretty big one.

And it came on a night where the unity between the fans and the players reached new heights as the team ended the night back on the top of the Sky Bet League One table.

The final moments of at least four of Sunderland’s five home matches this season have been nervy, but this one was far from it as the Black Cats were in complete control from minute one.

This latest statement also came as Lee Johnson shuffled his pack – switching both formation and personnel in an attempt to freshen up the starting 11.

The team

Johnson made five changes in total, and all of them played their role in one of the performances Sunderland have put in during their time in League One.

Nathan Broadhead was one of those alterations, as he lead the line alongside Ross Stewart in a two-man attack, and showed his versatility as well as his willingness to make dangerous, darting runs in behind - something that caused the Cheltenham defence numerous problems from the get-go.

Fresh from his Northern Ireland call-up, captain Corry Evans regained his place in the team in place of Dan Neil, and the captain’s armband, and showed composure and experience in the centre of the park.

Sunderland v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League One
Captain Corry Evans was recalled to the side
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

First-half action

From minute one, the Black Cats sought to control the game and one of Lee Johnson’s changes almost paid dividends within the opening 10 minutes.

A long ball found Broadhead, but after manoeuvring it around the Cheltenham goalkeeper and squaring it to Ross Stewart, a defender was able to turn the ball away from a corner.

From the corner, Sunderland took the lead – Wright’s header from McGeady’s corner flew into the bottom right corner.

For the away side, opportunities were scarce, but if Mattie Pollock’s header from Liam Sercombe’s cross had been on target, things may have been slightly different at the Stadium of Light.

However, it only felt like there was only going to be one winner, with the Robins having to resort to long balls all too often as they were unable to string a range of passes together, which in part is much to the credit of the press of Lee Johnson’s side.

The Black Cats were expressing their attractive brand of football with fluidity, and Carl Winchester was not far away from adding to his tally for the season, but his long-range strike flew narrowly wide of the right post.

Michael Duff’s side were unable to build any form of momentum, and an absolutely superb move from the home side cut them into two, and it was two for the hosts.

Winchester rolled the ball across to Broadhead – the striker dummied the ball for Ross Stewart, who netted his first of the evening by confidently disposing the effort into the bottom right corner.

Stewart could have had his second sooner than it came, as two chances passed him by. McGeady was twice the creator, but on both occasions Stewart’s efforts went just over the bar.

When his goal came, it sealed the three points with less than 40 minutes on the clock. Yet again, another brilliant team move was finished off by the Scotsman, after both Broadhead and McGeady were involved to tee up the striker with a simple effort from a couple of yards out.

Half time: Sunderland 3-0 Cheltenham

Sunderland v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League One
Stewart scores his second
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Second-half action

The half-time interval brought a change of personnel and formation from Michael Duff, as he switched to a back-four in order to match the Black Cats – but it seemed to make little impact, as Sunderland continued on their hunt for a fourth.

Both Aiden O’Brien and Corry Evans tested the goalkeeper – O’Brien’s effort cannoned against the turf and was palmed over the bar, before Evans’ ferocious drive forced a superb save from Scott Flinders.

Lee Johnson’s side were no doubt in the mood for more goals, and the fourth was just around the corner, as Evans cut the ball back for Luke O’Nien who managed to side-foot it into the bottom right corner.

Just as Lee Johnson and his team were celebrating the fourth, the fifth goal raised the roof off the Stadium of Light and capped off one of the best evenings in League One for Sunderland.

Two of Sunderland’s summer signings were involved, as Nathan Broadhead’s initial darting run and effort was blocked and rolled into the path of Leon Dajaku, who effortlessly curled the ball into the top left corner to seal victory.

Sunderland v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League One
Dajaku puts the icing on the cake
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Post-match, Lee Johnson was full of praise for his side, but stressed that the win was down to many different elements within the club, from the boardroom right down to the grass-cutters and the fans.

I’m super proud tonight of the whole club.

I haven’t been here that long, especially at the Stadium of Light with the fans, and it was a great evening under the lights and the pitch was slick - the ground staff done a good job and the lads produced some wonderful football and wonderful goals on the pitch to send the fans home very, very happy.

Finlay’s verdict

The unity that the club is slowly creating with all aspects and elements that play a part in their transition is massive, and on Tuesday night it was arguably one of the best atmospheres and performances that the Stadium of Light has witnessed in League One.

With Wigan dropping points against Sheffield Wednesday, a gap has emerged between Sunderland and the play-off positions – it may just be small but it’s a good building block to have in place.

On Wednesday, it’s back on the training ground, as another challenge is just around the corner.

A sell-out clash with Portsmouth will always serve up a tasty treat, and is no doubt going to be a tough test for this youthful, but maturing, crop of players.

For now, it’s “time for recovery” in Lee Johnson’s words, but on Saturday, another three points are up for grabs and – and claiming those would be a huge confidence boost heading into another potential international break.


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