It was a familiar result for Jack Ross and Sunderland as the lads drew 1 – 1 with Oxford United at the SOL on Saturday in the opening game of the season. Ross' new look side and formation started slowly and were behind midway through the first half after Tariqe Fosu capitalised on a mistake by Sunderland’s defence. Sunderland drew level after the restart after Lynden Gooch won and then converted a penalty but Ross' side couldn’t muster a winner with a pretty lacklustre showing and formation which doesn’t seem to bring the best out of the personnel available.
After the playoff disappointment at Wembley at the end of last season and another summer of incoming and outgoings Sunderland welcomed Oxford United to Wearside as Jack Ross' side embarked on life in the third tier of English football for only the third time in the clubs history. It was a long summer for Sunderland fans with rumours aplenty and takeover talk dominating the narrative. Two high profile high earners were moved on before the surprise departure of current captain George Honeyman to Hull this week.
With five new players signed by Ross and a 100 point target set by the owners Sunderland and Ross need a fast start to the season. Promotion this season is an absolute must – anything is else is simply not acceptable. On the injury front Ross confirmed that Charlie Wyke would definitely miss the game and whilst Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady were both in full training they were both lacking in match fitness.
Jack Ross named Jon McLaughlin as skipper and gave four players there full debuts as he opted to stick with the formation he has been experimenting with in pre season with McLaughlin starting in goal behind the back three of McLaughlin, Willis and Flanagan, with Hume and Gooch wing backs. In midfield were McGeouch and Dobson with Embleton ahead of them trying to feed McNulty and Grigg.
It was the visitors who had the first sight of goal getting in down the right and squandering a good chance dragging a shot wide. Sunderland responded and McNulty and Gooch combined with the on loan forward testing the keeper with a decent right footed shot from the edge of the box. Soon after we went close again after Gooch and McLaughlin combined down the right with the American doing well to ride a couple of challenges before crossing across the face of the goal with Sunderland failing to capitalise on the gaping goal.
After fourteen minutes Sunderland fell behind as last season’s Achilles heel reared its head again with sloppy defending at the back. Conor McLaughlin had a poor touch just inside our half allowing the ball to to be played into the path of Fosu who ran into the box unchallenged and drove a left footed shot from just inside the box past McLaughlin and into the right hand corner of the net.
Sunderland huffed and puffed trying to get back into the game but were wasteful in good positions with Hume on a couple of occasions over hitting crosses whilst at the other end Oxford thought they had doubled their lead from a corner but the ref blew for a foul giving Sunderland a let off. Sunderland did manage an effort on goal just after the half hour when Hume clipped a cross onto the head of McNulty but his tame header was held comfortably by the keeper.
The game petered out towards the break with Karl Robinson’s side content to go in at half time ahead and used any opportunity to run the clock down. Gooch got into a good position down the right but overshot his cross to the back post before Embleton forced a corner when his shot from the edge of the box was deflected wide for a corner which the visitors defended well. There was three minutes injury time at the end of the first half and we win a free kick on the edge of the box after Embleton was upended. He got up to take the set piece but drove it straight Into the wall.
Jack Ross didn’t make any changes at the break and the lads won a penalty after the restart after Gooch tumbled under a challenge in the box after being played in by Dobson. The American stepped up to take it and sent the keeper the wrong way side footing the ball into the top right hand corner.
Oxford went close with just over half an hour remaining after Sunderland gave the ball away but McLaughlin held a volley before Jack Ross made his first change of the afternoon with Duncan Watmore replacing Elliott Embleton. Sunderland went close soon after when Gooch whipped a decent free kick in from the right which was glanced clear before Watmore turned the ball back goal wards which the Oxford keeper palmed away to safety.
With twenty five minutes remaining Jon McLaughlin played a risky game trying to control a back pass then beat a defender which resulted in the Scot giving away a corner. An Oxford head rose highest to the set piece from the right wing but was off target. McLaughlin was in the thick of the action again soon after when he came for a cross from the right wing and didn’t get the ball but Oxford blasted the ball over the bar with McLaughlin in no mans land.
A skirmish from the resulting goal kick happened midway in the Oxford half which saw the ref produce a yellow card for Gooch before Ross made his second change of the game with McGeady replacing Grigg. McGeady showed a few nice touches but couldn’t influence the game higher up the pitch and ten minutes later he was followed onto the pitch by Chris Maguire who replaced Lynden Gooch.
We immediately forced a corner which Maguire took which the visitors dealt with before some more predictable time wasting. Oxford then went close with first McLaughlin blocking a shot before Flanagan did the same coming off a lot worse blocking Hall’s shot from the edge of the box under a challenge.
A minute from time we won a free kick after Maguire was fouled trying to shoot after being found by Hume on the edge of the box. McGeady stepped up to take it but drove it into the wall before winning a free kick on the right hand side after latching onto the rebound. Maguire took it and Oxford cleared with five minutes injury time signalled to play. At the death the new rule about subs was implemented by the ref as Oxford tried to waste more time with the ref insisting the player left the pitch at the nearest side to him rather than trotting off to the dugout across the whole of the pitch.
That was the last of the action and the almost predictable 1 – 1 draw.
Final Score: Sunderland 1 Oxford United 1
ALS Man of the Match: Lynden Gooch