The story so far…
Sunderland slipped up against fellow promotion rivals Lincoln last weekend. After a bright start Sunderland took the lead courtesy of a Callum McFadzean header, the most unlikely of sources for a goal but still one which Sunderland would gladly accept. Power continued his good run of form with a wonderful cross to the far post and the industrious McFadzean nodded the ball across the keeper into the far corner, giving Sunderland a lead which they took into the second half.
Aiden McGeady rattled the palms of Lincoln keeper Alex Palmer early on in the second 45 with a sublime free kick. The Lincoln stopper, again called into action, could only parry the ball away from goal and Sunderland failed to capitalise on an excellent opportunity to put the game to bed.
Callum Morton was the man to make Sunderland regret that missed opportunity. The young Lincoln striker seized his chance following some aerial tennis when the ball fell at his feet outside the Sunderland box. Central midfielder turned fullback turned centre back Luke O’Nien was caught out making the Imps attacker and was easily turned by Morton, who burst into the box and coolly slotted past Burge who hadn’t conceded in his last 5 games.
Following the goal Sunderland were visibly rattled and looked leggy trying to contain Lincoln’s new found impetus and it was Michael Appleton’s side who looked the most likely to go on and win the game.
Some lovely one touch football set Morgan Rogers away down the right hand side and beyond Dion Sanderson who stumbled while trying to intercept the pass. The Lincoln winger put a ball across the face of Burge’s goal but the Sunderland stopper recovered to prevent Cohen Bramall from putting his side 2-1 up with a good save.
Lincoln nearly wrapped the game up after some good work again down the right hand channel. Another wicked low cross went into the box and it was Lincoln scorer Morgan who had a chance to secure all three points for Lincoln, but he was denied by Burge who deftly dived to his right to ensure the spoils were shared between the two sides.
Newly installed manager Joey Barton has had a torrid time of late. The former Fleetwood manager has been trying to turn around his new sides form which has seen them win twice in their last ten matches.
The most significant result The Gas have mustered during that awful run was a 4-1 win over Accrington Stanley, a side which had taken many by surprise following a string of positive results.
Former Newcastle player Barton has been in charge since the end of February and has presided over 9 of those matches, 2 wins, 1 draw and 6 losses. Hardly a sparkling record to brag about.
Rovers played newly promoted Swindon Town in their latest match and succumbed to a disappointing 1-0 defeat.
The Gas started they brighter of the two sides in a closely fought contest and thought they had broken the deadlock 5 minutes into the second half. After making inroads down the left, Bristol fullback Luke Leahy fired a cross into the box which Swindon struggled to clear. The ball eventually landed for substitute Zain Westbrooke who fired a low and bouncing shot past former Sunderland calamity specialist keeper Lee Camp. His blushes were saved following a lengthy discussion between referee and linesman which resulted in an offside being awarded to the visitors and the scores being reset to level.
Swindon midfielder Jack Payne scored the only goal of the game. Scott Twine fired a free kick into the Bristol wall and the rebound fell delightfully for Jack Payne, who happily smashed the ball into the back of the net to give Swindon the win and the 3 points which The Gas desperately needed.
What could happen?
After casually browsing thought Bristol’s last few games, it seems to me that this is a team lacking quality and effort. They don’t seem to be giving their all to win those second balls and to chase down and harass their opponents. In and around the box there is a distinct lack of quality, with movement and accuracy letting The Gas down on numerous occasions. Their best work seems to come from aerial uncertainty, something which Sunderland’s make shift back four will have to be alert to. When I think back to Sunderland’s last game, the way that O’Nien was so easily beaten for the Lincoln goal does give me shivers when I replay it in my abject little mind.
Midfielder come fullback Luke Leahy is the top scorer for Bristol this season with 9 goals, showing what a torrid time their attacking players have had this season. They’ve only managed 36 goals all season, the third lowest amount in the league.
Lee Johnson desperately needs to find another attacking threat on the flank to replace the creativity of Jordan Jones. We’re far too reliant on Aiden McGeady to create anything and everything and the irishman needs support from the rest of the team. Lynden Gooch seems to be trying a little too hard, taking on his man at every opportunity and not coming out on top. Jack Diamond has also been wasteful when given an opportunity of late and this is directly impacting the effectiveness of Charlie Wyke.
Playing Carl Winchester in a more attacking role was a mistake in my opinion and we should definitely see his poise and range of passing from a deeper position against Bristol, he’s simply wasted playing in the 10 role. The enigma that is Josh Scowen is definitely a defensive player and adds little in the way of attack, his touch and passing lets him down far too often in games. I’d like to see Chris Maguire get a start playing as an attacking midfielder. His calm quality on the ball has made a huge difference when he has came on as a sub in the last few games, something the Black Cats have dearly missed until his late introductions.
Oh, and I also think we need two proper centre backs in front of Lee Burge. Marshalling a player and keeping them from being a danger is an art form which is crafted over many seasons and under a plethora of tutors, you can’t learn it overnight and sadly I think O’Nien can be a liability at the heart of our defence, despite his outstanding work rate and personality.
This one will be all about precision and pressure. If Sunderland can play with a bit more pace and movement it should open up space for McGeady to exploit. There is no denying that, with Jones being injured, the former Everton player is our chief creator and we currently rely upon him far too much. Captain Max Power is admirably stepping up to the plate and contributing with through balls and effective crosses, one of which resulted in a goal last time out. The rest of the team need to follow in the captains footsteps and hopefully we can put this one to bed. Ross Stewart is nearing full fitness with each passing game and Lee Johnson should soon have dangerous left back Denver Hume available as he makes his return from a hamstring injury.
On a side note I would love to see Dan Neil get some more minutes. He gets into good positions and has a wonderful range of passing which can only get better the more he plays, plus he’s a local lad from South Shields and we all love to see that homegrown talent succeeding.
With Peterborough tasting defeat against a Blackpool side which find themselves in formidable form, this is too good an opportunity for Sunderland to pass up. We’ve seen the bottlers and the chokers before and this time we need to put those doubts to bed. Bristol are struggling, Joey Barton is looking to the teachings of a widely discredited and humiliated academic in George Jung for inspiration to free his side from the relegation mire that they currently find themselves. Lee Johnson must prove that the Lincoln draw was a speed bump on the way to bigger and better things.
Last but not least… It’s going to be at least 2-0 to the Lads, with McGeady getting a goal. I know I said this last week, but like a hen ready to lay an egg, this lad is due to get on the score sheet. Time to send a horrible Mag home crying in my eyes.
Ha’way the Lads!
Tell us what you think will happen - @WeAreWearside
September 2020: Sunderland 1-1 Bristol Rovers
March 2020: Bristol Rovers 2-0 Sunderland
February 2020: Sunderland 3-0 Bristol Rovers
March 2019: Bristol Rovers 0-2 Sunderland (EFL Trophy)
February 2019: Bristol Rovers 0-2 Sunderland