Sunderland travelled to Rochdale in search for a third win on the bounce, with a 2-1 league win against Portsmouth and a 3-1 cup win away to Accrington being the two previous results. The win on Saturday was crucial in our bid for promotion and it filled many supporters with much more faith in the team, and it will certainly have given the players much-needed confidence boost heading into the game. The game would be a great test, but also a great opportunity to prove why we have the ability to go up automatically this season, and also a chance for Jack Ross to prove that he is the right man for the job.
Although there have been some poor individual performances, collectively we are still unbeaten and with some of the toughest fixtures out of the way we are definitely in a good position. The game kicked off at 19:45, with a great following of Sunderland supporters expected to make the journey to the Crown Oil Arena.
In terms of team selection, there was just one change made from the team that defeated Portsmouth on Saturday; Marc McNulty, who was forced off with a knock at the weekend, was replaced by Charlie Wyke. He would lead the attack on his own with Aiden McGeady, Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch all playing behind him. Grant Leadbitter and Max Power continued in central-midfield, having impressed at the Stadium Of Light in our last match.
Luke O’Nien was at right back, with Conor McLaughlin was on the left until we bring in a replacement. Jordan Willis, who scored his first Sunderland goal on Saturday, was partnered with Alim Ozturk in central defence. Finally, Jon McLaughlin was between the sticks, having been a key asset to our run to the play-off final last season.
Rochdale edged the play in the early stages, with Ian Henderson’s effort striking the side netting. It was obvious early on that if either side were going to edge the game it wasn’t going to be straight forward by any means. Although Rochdale had the majority of possession in the first twenty-five minutes of the game, they still paid the price as Sunderland took the lead. Wyke flicked on to O’Nien, who passed to an unmarked Aiden McGeady and he unsurprisingly picked a spot in the corner of the Rochdale net with perfect execution. However, the lead was temporary as just five minutes later Callum Camps fired the home side level with a brilliant shot, 1-1. The whistle blew for half-time, Rochdale had the majority of the ball but hadn’t caused too many problems for the Sunderland defence. It was going to take a lot of character if either side were to find a winning goal in the second half.
Rochdale started well in the second half, Rathbone’s attempt caused Jon McLaughlin to react quickly and make a superb save at his near post. He was tested yet again, as Callum Camps tried for his second of the match, but Jon McLaughlin came out on top yet again. Sunderland were still yet to trouble Robert Sánchez in the Rochdale goal, resulting in the introduction of Will Grigg, with Lynden Gooch going off. Not long after this change Sunderland were able to restore the lead, sending the away end into dreamland. Luke O’Nien crossed deep to the back post where Aiden McGeady nodded down for Charlie Wyke, who fired home from close range. Sunderland pushed for a third goal to solidify the win, but Robert Sánchez made a terrific double save to keep the difference at just one goal. Three points returned to Wearside, as we gradually climbed the table up to a half decent 6th place after the first four league fixtures.
Overall, it wasn’t the most convincing performance. However, gaining three points away from home shows just how much of a threat we are to any opposition, even on a bad day. With the window still open, a left-back is clearly needed, with Conor McLaughlin looking uncomfortable playing out of position and Denver Hume being the only senior player in that position.
Will Grigg was very hard to deal with when brought on, and if he can even show a glimpse of his prolific form at Wigan then he could terrorise any defence in this division. Slowly but surely, we are continuing to improve and if Jack Ross is able to address the few weaknesses that we have then there should be no issues heading into the game at home to Wimbledon on Saturday afternoon.