Sunderland turned in a decent performance to come from a goal down to beat Bristol Rovers 2 – 1 at the SOL on Saturday afternoon in difficultconditions. In gale force winds, Baltic temperature’s and driving rain, goals from Adam Matthews and Josh Maja cancelled out Alex Rodman’s opener as Sunderland remain third in the league hot on the heels of the top two.
After last week’s abandoned game against Accrington Stanley the lads dropped out of the automatic promotion places albeit having two games in hand over Portsmouth and Luton. After crashing out of the FA Cup against Walsall on Tuesday evening an eventful week continued yesterday with the launch of the Netflix document which gave a great insight into the shambolic state of the club last season.
Bristol Rovers headed to the SOL with problems of their own after a poor run of form compounded by a 4 – 0 drubbing at home to Doncaster last weekend saw them sack manager Darrell Clarke. Robbie Fowler is rumoured to be interested in the job but in the meantime Graham Coughlan was placed in temporary charge and was expected to ring the changes for the visitors.
Jack Ross was hoping to have Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch available after they missed the defeat on Tuesday against Walsall whilst Duncan Watmore was also expected to be named in the squad as he continues his rehabilitation. Ross made seven changesto the side that was knocked out of the FA Cup as we lined up with McLaughlin in goal behind a back four of Matthews, Baldwin, Loovens and Oviedo. In midfield Cattermole, Power and Honeyman with McGeady and Gooch wide supporting Josh Maja.
We kicked off toward the newly named Roker End and had an early chance when James got space on the edge of the box and drove a low shot goalwards but the keeper got low down to gather it. At the other end the visitors forced a free kick on the right hand side which was clipped into the front post which there centre half headed wide unmarked with the goal gaping – a real let off Sunderland.
The warning signs weren’t heeded and Sunderland fell behind inside ten minutes after some sloppy defending. A cross from the right wasn’t cleared before McLaughlin parried away a shot before Rodman slammed the ball into the back of the net.
Sunderland responded well to be fair with McGeady having a shot from the edge of the box go wide before Maja had his blushes spared with an offside flag after he headed over from a great position inside the six yard box. After twenty two minutes we won a free kick which was cleared easily then after twenty five minutes we almost equalised when Oviedo crossed from the left and Lee Cattermole slammed a shot off the top of the bar. Five minutes later we went close again when Maja shifted the ball in the box onto his left foot after being played into the box by McGeady but his low left foot shot was inches wide.
Gooch was next to waste a chance when he was fed on the edge of the box but missed the target terribly blasting over the bar. At the other end more poor defending offered another sight of goal for Rovers but eventually McLaughlin got down to smother a shot. We equalised on the stroke of half-time with a brilliantly worked goal from Matthews after a great passage of play saw Cattermole, Gooch and Honeyman combine to find McGeady. The winger jinked inside and drove a shot towards the top corner which the keeper parried but Matthews was on hand to nod in at the back post.
Neither side made any changes at the break but it was the visitors who started better forcing a couple of corners which Sunderland cleared. We then took the lead two minutes later with another goal from Josh Maja who latched onto a great through ball from McGeady before riding a challenge and firing past the keeper into the bottom corner.
Bristol Rovers responded and fired a shot over the bar before forcing another corner which resulted in McLaughlin gathering a looping header. As the drizzling rain started battering the SOL the game went a bit flat until the 70th minute when a bit of trickery and a cross from McGeady set away a spell of pressure from Sunderland which the visitors managed to ride.
After 75 minutes Jack Ross made his first change of the game with Chris Maguire replacing Josh Maja. Then with Jon McLaughlin struggling with a knock Robin Ruiter replaces him. Soon after Duncan Watmore made his long return after injury replacing Lynden Gooch.
The final stages of the game became frantic with Sunderland twice hitting the woodwork in quick succession first Power hit the bar with a shot before Maguire struck the post on the rebound. There were five minutes injury time and the visitors almost snatched an equaliser at the death when Payne managed to lob the ball over Ruiter after a lapse in concentration from Matthew's but his effort rebounded off the bar and away to safety.
Sunderland managed to hang on for the victory in testing conditions which you could only appreciate leaving the stadium and walking through the wind and rain.
Final Score – Sunderland 2 Bristol Rovers 1
ALS Man of the Match – Aidan McGeady