We faced Pompey coming off the back of a comfortable 3-1 win away to Accrington Stanley there were finally some positives and an opportunity to continue with the same winning mentality. Although this victory was just in the cup, it was bound to give the lads some much needed confidence going into the game, and also resulted in Jack Ross making a couple of changes to the team sheet compared to the one that faced Ipswich last weekend.
Alim Ozturk came into the starting line-up, after an impressive end to last season and a steady performance in midweek. This change pleased some supporters, as Tom Flanagan had looked very shaky in the first two league fixtures, both of which ended with a 1-1 draw. Grant Leadbitter and Max Power both started in the heart of midfield, with Dylan McGeouch and George Dobson both having to settle for a place on the bench although they both impressed on the opening day. Chris Maguire also started, having scored the winner when we faced Portsmouth in the first leg of the play offs in May. Marc McNulty led the line on his own, with Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg both on the bench if needed later in the game.
The game kicked off, and after a relatively poor opening from ourselves, Portsmouth were able to break the deadlock, as Marcus Harness fired into the corner of the net after a number of deflections in the Sunderland penalty area. However, just five minutes later Grant Leadbitter’s corner was met by the leaping Jordan Willis, who headed home to level the score after 27 minutes, his first goal since arrival.
Sunderland then took the lead after Aiden McGeady did tremendously well to beat his marker and fire across the face of goal for Chris Maguire to tap In past a helpless Craig MacGillivray. It was a very tight first half, with a lot of loose balls and hard fought 50-50s in midfield, just the usual recipe for a Sunderland vs Portsmouth match.
The second half began and we were ahead in a league fixture for the first time this season. However, Jack Ross could not afford to protect a one goal lead, especially against a Portsmouth side with John Marquis leading the line and multiple other players capable of scoring if given half a chance to shoot.
Marcus Harness continued to cause our defence problems, but we looked much more comfortable when defending this week, as it seemed to be an “if in doubt, kick it out” approach, rather than trying to play risky passes out of defence. Marc McNulty was unfortunately forced to exit after he pulled up with his hamstring.
This resulted in the introduction of Charlie Wyke, who opened his tally for the season in midweek against Accrington. His first opportunity came quickly, but he couldn’t stretch enough to make any real contact with the ball. John Marquis had a great opportunity to level the scoring after a brilliant through ball, but he fired wayward from close range, sparking ironic jeers from the Roker End. Kenny Jacket made a double change with a desperate attempt to save any points, with the clock ticking towards 90 minutes. Ellis Harrison and Gareth Evans were both unable to make an impact, as Sunderland put three more points on the table, with a 2-1 victory against promotion rivals.
There was a clear improvement in all areas of the pitch from the first two league games. It was a line-up that many supporters feel is our strongest, and on paper is more than capable of beating any side in this division. Max Power was calm and controlled in midfield, with Alim Ozturk taking no prisoners in defence. Chris Maguire also impressed as he was willing to receive the ball and charge at the Portsmouth backline, as well as getting on the scoresheet. Sunderland travel to Rochdale on Tuesday night and hopefully we are able to continue our unbeaten start, but by claiming another three points to climb the table.