Sunderland faced the visit of Cardiff City and before the game fans knew it would be a tough test, Neil Warnock’s high flying Bluebirds sat in third place before kick off but hadn’t won a game in three - better than Sunderland who haven’t won in 5. Sunderland fans haven’t seen a win on home soil since a 1-0 victory against Watford in December 2016.
Simon Grayson made a noticeable amount of changes from the side that were beaten 3-0 in the League Cup on Wednesday, Jonny Williams missed out through illness and Callum McManaman was out through a late knock. Duncan Watmore still wasn’t fit enough to make the bench although Aiden McGeady was. Warnock benched Junior Hoilett, the Canadian was rumoured to become a Sunderland player five years ago for around £7 million.
Sunderland started the game poorly and as a consequence, with the first chance of the game, Chris Bryson finished after superb play. It started with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge who booted it long for Mendez-Laing to hook a pass over his head into the area for the runner Bryson, who volleyed home with a delicate knock past the helpless Ruiter.
Ruiter was called into action again shortly after, this time to deny midfielder Aron Gunnarsson’s volley from outside the penalty area. Bryan Oviedo then blocked Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s rebound.
Sunderland then got their first real chance of the game when Costa Rica international left back Oviedo drove forward before unleashing a long range drive, beating Etheridge but not the inside of the post.
The second half saw Sunderland come out of the blocks quicker. Lynden Gooch made a run down the left into the area only for centre half Sean Morrsion to clumsily slide into the Californian winger - giving referee Peter Bankes no choice but to award a penalty to the home side. The man who won it then took it, not trusting striker James Vaughan who missed two in pre season, the academy graduate sent former Fulham goalie Etheridge the wrong way as the ball nestled into the bottom right corner. It was Gooch’s first league goal for the Mackems.
Ruiter was required again when a corner caused problems. Gabon born centre back Bruno Ecuele-Manga out jumped Marc Wilson and the Dutchman had to use his height to scramble across and turn it up onto the bar. Bryson came close to a brace when nobody closed the on loan midfielder down and was allowed room for a 30 yard shot which Ruiter had to get down to at his right hand post.
Sunderland's goalkeeper was again forced into a save when substitute Hoilett let one go from the edge of the area after some good work by Denmark youngster Kenneth Zohore, Ruiter managed to turn the Canada striker’s shot wide.
The shot by Hoilett lead to a corner, which was whipped in, and the man who gave away a penalty at one end won one at the other, Sean Morrsion was brought down by a push from Lamine Kone. Referee Bankes pointed to the spot instantly although it was extremely soft to give, yet lazy defending from Kone. Central midfielder Joe Ralls converted from 12 yards, 15 minutes from time after he sent the six foot five goalie the wrong way.
Very few chances arose after that and Sunderland lacked urgency towards the end whilst Cardiff was happy to just play it about. It looked like Grayson had set up for a draw and didn’t change that all game, the Black Cats never looked like scoring in the latter stages. Once again Vaughan did a lot of running about and won knock ons but nobody seemed to be within 20 yards of him to get the second balls.
Personally, I’m not one to use the excuse of the referee costing a team the game but Mr Bankes certainly had something to do with all shares of the spoils going back to South Wales. The only notable decision given to Sunderland was a stone wall penalty whilst it felt like every 50/50 seemed to go the visitors’ way.
A slightly more tolerable journey back for the travelling Bluebird fans whereas home supporters still wonder when a win will come at the Stadium of Light. This defeat puts Sunderland into the relegation zone, a familiar sight for most Wearsiders however not the Championship bottom three. Only managerless Birmingham City and newly promoted Bolton Wanderers lie below the Black Cats.
Next is a long trip to East Anglia to Portman Road, home of former manager Mick McCarthy’s high-flying Ipswich Town. The game is on Tuesday night with a 7:45pm kick off. The last trip to that part of England saw a 3-1 victory over Norwich City.
Ruiter - 6, Oviedo - 6 (E. Robson ’79), Browning - 5, Kone - 4, Wilson - 5, Matthews - 6, Cattermole - 4, Ndong - 4 (Asoro ’79), Honeyman - 4 (McGeady ’60), Gooch - 7, Vaughan - 6
E. Robson - 4, Asoro - 5, McGeady - 5.