The first home fixture of 2020 arrived, with Lincoln City the visitors to the Stadium of Light. The Imps arrived on Wearside with an impressive following of over 3,000 away supporters to spur them on.
Coming into the game Lincoln had failed to win eleven of their last twelve away games in the league, failing to score in five of their last seven. It was a game that we needed to win, especially with many supporters unhappy with both Stewart Donald and Phil Parkinson at this moment in time.
As for the line-up, we made just one change from that side that earned a 1-1 draw with Fleetwood on New Year's’ Day. Joel Lynch missed out, with Tom Flanagan coming into the line-up to replace him. Chris Maguire continued in the side after a good run of form recently, scoring the winning goal away at Doncaster and converting a late penalty to equalise at Fleetwood. Lynden Gooch and Charlie Wyke also started again, both of which have been influential since returning from their respective injuries. Most supporters were pleased with the team sheet having seen an improvement in form lately, which is shown by recent results.
Lincoln lined up with a 4-5-1 formation to start off, with Jake Hesketh playing just behind the highly rated Tyler Walker in attack. Jason Shackell started at the back, a very experienced player in the Football League having played for the likes of Norwich, Derby and Burnley. However, it would be very difficult for him to stop the likes of Lynden Gooch on this occasion.
Three O’ clock arrived and the game began, with Sunderland off to a quick start to get the crowd on side. Chris Maguire weaved an opening before firing his left-footed effort just wide, with just under two minutes gone. After a convincing spell of possession we eventually took the lead from a corner with twenty-minutes played. Maguire delivered his cross into a dangerous area for Tom Flanagan to attack and the defenders’ header hit the surface before rising into the top corner of the net, 1-0 Sunderland. Incredibly, the lead was doubled just three minutes later.
After some superb pressure on the Lincoln goalkeeper, Chris Maguire was able to nick possession and find Lynden Gooch, who headed the ball easily into the back of the net, 2-0. Two assists from Chris Maguire in quick succession as he continued his good form. Lynden Gooch then grabbed his second of the game and added salt to the wounds for Lincoln by making it 3-0. Jon McLaughlin’s hopeful punt forward turned into a pinpoint through ball when it somehow found its way through to the American, who guided the ball calmly into the corner of the goal. The lads were full of energy and determined to regain possession at every opportunity, which was brilliant to see in what was probably our best half of the season so far. It seemed that all three points were safe and in the bag at the break.
However, football is known to be a game of two halves and Lincoln really got into gear in the second forty-five. John Akinde was introduced for the Imps, a player who caused us various problems and had supporters questioning why he hadn’t been on from the start. Lincoln seemed to dominate possession and we really struggled to cause them any problems on the attack, a complete contrast from the events of the first half. It took sixty-six minutes but Lincoln did get a goal back to give us a scare when Denver Hume was dispossessed and Tyler Walker was able to tap home from close range, 3-1. When Max Power did get forward for Sunderland he very nearly added a fourth, with a superb effort from distance clipping the top of the crossbar on its way over. Towards the end of the afternoon Luke O’Nien’s ambitious looping header went just passed the post, with the game finishing 3-1 to Sunderland.
Ideally, we would have continued the second half in the same fashion that we finished the first half. Fortunately, a brilliant ten-minute spell was enough to comfortably wrap up the win and guarantee all three points. The game had everything that the supporters have been crying out for all season, the willingness to run and pressure the opposing defence and really have a go at them. It was an approach that was effective for us as we forced them into some costly defensive errors that led to goals. Next up we host the league leaders, with Wycombe Wanderers the visitors to the Stadium of Light next Saturday. Hopefully their league position doesn’t scare us because if we can play anything like we did in this match then there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t claim all three points.