On a sunny winter’s New Year’s Day Sunderland battled to a hard fought win against a strong and determined Blackpool with a goal from Maja sealing the three points for Sunderland to send 8,000 fans home smiling.
It would be remiss to neglect mentioning the strange atmosphere and wilful neglect caused by the Blackpool owners which meant home fans were outnumbered by at least 4 to 1. The cost cutting measures also ensured late entry as Sunderland fans queued to get through the reduced number of open turnstiles. Exit gates were eventually opened and fans began to pour in.
The opening exchanges were as scrappy as ever with Sunderland trying to control the middle as they started with a 4-4-2 with Wyke providing some much-needed height and strength to support Maja. McGeady zipped around the park and down the wing and always appeared Sunderland’s biggest threat. His early link up play with Reece James set the tone for Sunderland’s attacking tactics with Wyke desperate to burst on to some of the crosses and through balls. Gooch looked more industrious than he has of late and an early shot was blocked inside the box.
Blackpool for the most part did not particularly threatening at the start of the match with a front three combining height, speed and experience in Delfoneseu, Feeney and Gnanduillet, the latter being a typical rangey League One striker. It’s fair to say that Sunderland looked relatively comfortable although an early card for Cattermole as he pulled down a breakaway by Delfoneseu did cause some concern especially as it means he will miss games against Luton and Charlton now. Minutes later the concern was forgotten. Max Power fed the ball to a darting McGeady who lofted it into the box where a predatorial Maja made no mistake, prodding it past Howard in the Blackpool goal. The lead was a deserved one and many would have expected Sunderland to progress from there. Instead Blackpool came back admirably and used overlapping full backs to sneak in behind markers as long deep crosses came into the box. Blackpool finished the half strongly but Sunderland still looked quite comfortable in repelling Blackpool.
The second half kicked off in the same vein and the tight scrappy closing down from both teams restricted opportunities for all. The pace of Gnanduillet almost caught Sunderland out as he ran on to a third ball and slid it through McLaughlin’s legs. The keeper stretched and grabbed as Baldwin slid in. It’s another one to ponder in terms of whether it crossed the line but it wasn’t given and bounced off the post into McLaughlin’s arms. A huge let off for Sunderland. The game was beginning to lose lustre when Paudy O’Connor blasted a dead ball off Wyke’s ankle and Gooch roared in to defend his teammate. Gooch and O’Connor were both booked. The game wore on with limited opportunity and McGeady probably should have done better when shooting tamely at Howard after some good twisting and turning. Moments later he was at it again and Howard almost fumbled a shot from the edge of the area which dipped and swerved. On 70 minutes the Sunderland fans held their breath and waited for the net to bulge as Maja shook away defenders and fired a low rocket to the bottom left but an excellent save from Howard denied him a second.
Then it was Gooch’s turn as he ran on to a ball and fired it into what was surely the top corner but a reaching save from Howard denied him. McGeouch came on for Wyke to pack the midfield and hold on for the win and Maguire replaced Maja to no doubt do what you want Maguire to do when you’re 1-0 up. Some dicey defending towards the end was not punished by Blackpool and the Sunderland fans erupted in unison at the final whistle. Great support. Good result.
Final Score: Sunderland 1 Blackpool
ALS Man of the Match: Josh Maja