Sunderland had to settle for a point after drawing one all with promotion rivals Luton Town on Saturday afternoon in a fiery encounter which saw both teams end the game with ten men. Sunderland took the lead in the first half in front of a crowd of over 37k through Chris Maguire before the visitors equalised from the penalty spot through James Collins as both sides gained a point on Portsmouth who lost.
Sunderland went into the game knowing a victory over the visitors would move them back into the promotion places into second. Luton headed to Wearside in a rich vein of form but were rocked this week with the loss of their manager Nathan Jones who moved to Stoke to replace Gary Rowett.
Local lad and former Sunderland player Mick Harford was placed in temporary charge as Luton looked to extend their unbeaten run to 14 games. Luton also boasted the best record in the league of taking maximum points after going ahead in games whilst Jack Ross‘ side have the best record of any side in the league of taking three points after falling behind.
Jack Ross was boosted with the return to training of injured quartet Adam Matthews, Bryan Oviedo, Glenn Loovens and Ethan Robson on Thursday whilst new signing Jimmy Dunne was also named in the match day squad. Harford and Luton’s main injury concern was that first-choice goal keeper Marek Stech was struggling with a groin injury.
Ross made just one change from the side that drew at The Valley last weekend with Chris Maguire replacing the “ill" Josh Maja who didn’t make the match day squad.
The visitors got the game underway kicking towards the North Stand and forced an early corner which was over hit before Sunderland cleared the ball when it was swung back in. At the other end the lads had a chance when O'Nien did well on the right but Wyke couldn’t connect with the cross.
Luton had the better of the opening stages getting into some decent positions whilst also forcing Sunderland into conceding free kicks which were dangerous given the size of the visitors. Luton almost scored from one set piece which Baldwin cleared before McLaughlin was forced into a great save stretching to his right to stop what looked like a certain goal from a shot from the edge of the box.
The fast start from Luton seemed to catch up with them and Sunderland started getting a foothold into the game and we took the lead after fifteen minutes after a good spell of pressure. Gooch cut in from the right and saw a left footed effort blocked but the ball eventually dropped to Chris Maguire on the edge of the box and he dispatched a half volley into the bottom right hand corner with the keeper well beaten.
Having took the lead Sunderland were again reliant on Jon McLaughlin for it remaining intact after he produced another superb save to stop what seemed a certain goal. The visitors got in down the left and a square ball opened up a chance for the Luton striker but McLaughlin palmed his effort away before the lads scrambled the loose ball clear.
After half an hour the tempo of the game settled down but Sunderland had a half chance when Power swung a good ball in from the right but the keeper got up above Wyke to claim it. Five minutes later Sunderland forced a corner after a good move involving Gooch, Power and Maguire saw O'Nien’s cross cleared behind but the set piece what followed was poor and easily cleared.
At the other end the ref let what looked like a foul on McGeady go and Luton got into the box but Flanagan did well to intervene and clear the danger. We won a corner five minutes before the break which was taken short before being switched to the opposite flank but McGeady’s cross was headed behind for another corner. Maguire delivered his best corner of the game to find Baldwin unmarked but he glanced a header wide.
There was a bit of a melee on the stroke of half time when Flanagan picked up a yellow card for a challenge in the centre circle. The resulting free kick was defended well and Sunderland looked to break quick through Maguire but the attack was snuffed out and proved to be the last action of the first half.
We got the second half underway with neither team making any changes but like in the first half Luton started strongest and forced an early corner which was drilled in and parried over by McLaughlin for another corner from the other side. This was played in deep with Luton winning the knockdown before Sunderland scrambled clear with Power needing treatment following the robust challenge.
On fifty five minutes Harford's side fashioned a good chance when a ball was played through Sunderland's static defence but the Luton player racing onto the ball wasted the opportunity blazing over the bar. With half an hour to go some great tackles started flying in from Power, McGeouch and even McGeady before the Luton centre half was booked for hauling back Maguire as he surged forward.
With twenty five minutes to play the drama increased as Luton were awarded a penalty for a challenge by Flanagan in the box. The penalty came after Luton had struck the post from range after Maguire was guilty of losing possession in a dangerous area. After crashing off the post the ball fell kindly to their centre toward who took a touch and got a shot off but after this missed the target penalised Flanagan for his efforts to tackle the striker. James Collins made no mistake from the spot blasting past McLaughlin to level the game.
The drama wasn’t over though as referee Lee Probert was in the thick of the action straight away when he reduced the visitors to ten men sending off Danny Hylton for an elbow on Flanagan. Sunderland went close with fifteen minutes left to play after McGeady smashed the bar with a long range effort before Wyke nodded the rebound over.
Ross made his first change with ten minutes to go with Lynden Gooch making way for Benji Kimpioka. The visitors had a good chance with five to go but McLaughlin produced another top save to save Sunderland before Ross made his second change swapping James for Oviedo. Kimpioka had a sight of goal when O'Nien crossed from the right but the youngsters header was straight down the throat of the keeper.
There was five minutes of injury time and the drama wasn’t over as Sunderland were reduced to ten men after goal scorer Chris Maguire saw red after a coming together but he didn’t need to react. Charlie Wyke had a late chance when he was found with a cross from the right but he headed over with Sunderland having to settle for a point.
There were boos at full time but they were in the direction of the officials.
Final Score: Sunderland 1 Luton Town 1
ALS Man of the Match: Jon McLaughlin