After an unsatisfactory draw with Rotherham in midweek, Sunderland needed to get back on track with a win at The University of Bolton Stadium. Many supporters were frustrated with the performance in the previous game. However, the focus is always on the next game and not the previous one, with Bolton Wanderers the opponents on this occasion. As always, it was a game which we were the favourites heading into, but the players should be used to this sort of pressure by now.
Jack Ross opted for just one up front yet again, a decision which was questioned by some supporters as he has been accused of ‘not going for the win’ in various fixtures. Nonetheless, the starting side was still full of quality with multiple players capable of scoring. Unfortunately, Marc McNulty missed out through injury, having scored less than a minute into the game on Tuesday night. Effectively, it was a huge opportunity for Will Grigg to step up to the mark and repay the faith that Jack Ross invested when bringing him to Wearside. Luke O’Nien moved back into defence, having played in an attacking midfield role last time around and Chris Maguire came back into the line up. Grant Leadbitter replaced Dylan McGeouch, adding more experience in midfield. The final change saw Tom Flanagan return to the line-up, as Alim Ozturk dropped to the bench.
Incredibly, more than 4000 Sunderland supporters made the journey; anything less than a win would be disappointing to say the least. Even though Bolton have leaked goals so far this season, the game definitely wouldn’t be as simple as it may have looked. Having picked up a well earned 0-0 draw at home to Oxford in midweek, Keith Hill’s deadline day additions have given their supporters an insight as to what to expect in the coming matches. Former Sunderland men Liam Bridcutt and Will Buckley both started, with Stoke City loanee Thibaud Verlinden on the wing. They didn’t lack experience either, with Jason Lowe in midfield and Jack Hobbs steadying the defence. Clearly, Bolton have taken a leap in the right direction after what could have happened to their club just a few weeks ago.
With the home supporters full of optimism, the game got underway. Bolton got off to a positive start, giving the Sunderland backline a real scare straight from the off. Their first real opportunity arrived when Dennis Politic charged forward with threat to curl his effort against the post from just inside the box, giving the hosts a huge confidence boost. At the other end of the field, Lynden Gooch picked out Chris Maguire, who had his attempt on goal turned behind well by Remi Matthews. For Bolton, Jason Lowe’s volley from range almost caught Jon McLaughlin off-guard, but fortunately for the Scotsman it drifted inches wide. That was all the action for the first half and many of the travelling supporters were surprised by just how well Bolton were playing. However, Sunderland really failed to get going and it would have to be a much better second half performance to rescue a win.
One change was made at the interval, with Conor McLaughlin replacing Denver Hume in defence. The substitute was immediately tested, with Thibaud Verlinden charging forward and being brought down to win a free kick. A brilliant delivery was flicked onto the back post, where Jack Hobbs slammed it into the empty net, 1-0 Bolton. You could sense the frustration from the travelling Sunderland supporters, with Bolton on track for their first win of the campaign. Jack Ross’ men nearly struck back, as Luke O’Nien volleyed superbly towards goal, but was stopped by a combination of the woodwork and the Bolton goalkeeper. Some of the travelling fans then voiced their anger, with chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” targeted towards Jack Ross. The manager responded by introducing Charlie Wyke and Max Power to the game, in an attempt to salvage anything from the remaining fifteen minutes or so. Sunderland were in luck, as Yoan Zouma handled the ball in the box resulting in an injury time penalty. Aiden McGeady stepped up and made no mistake this time, to make the score 1-1 and send the red and white army back to Wearside with a point.
The criticism towards Jack Ross was as clear as daylight and it is understandable after recent displays. Many supporters have sat on the fence for a while, but the majority seemed in agreement that the manager has had his chance and nothing seems to have improved in comparison to last season. Regardless of which perspective you look at the situation, I think we can all agree that we deserve better and recent results aren’t acceptable by any means. Looking forward. Sunderland face Chris Wilders’ Sheffield United on Wednesday night, the second Premier League opposition we have faced in the cup already this season. Hopefully, results will improve sooner rather than later!