Joey Barton returned to face Sunderland once again, this time as manager of Bristol Rovers. The ball was firmly in our court though, with promotion rivals Peterborough losing 3-1 to Blackpool midweek. Our previous meeting with Bristol Rovers finished all square, with a cagey affair on the opening day of the season.
Sunderland would need to be much stronger this time around if we were to come away from the Memorial Stadium with maximum points. We are getting towards the important part of the season and there is no room for mistakes if we were to finally gain promotion. Last time out, the lads were held by Lincoln City at the Stadium of Light in a game that finished 1-1.
Sunderland were still without a number of key names, one of which was Jordan Jones. However, he shouldn’t be out of action for too much longer. In addition, defenders Bailey Wright, Denver Hume and Conor McLaughlin were all also unavailable. Lee Johnson made two changes from our previous game, with Josh Scowen and Aiden O’Brien replacing Grant Leadbitter and Conor McLaughlin, who was on international duty.
For the hosts, Anssi Jakkola made a return between the sticks. Luke Leahy continued in defence, with the fullback netting nine times so far this season. Zain Westbrooke began in midfield, with Jonah Ayunga and Brandon Hanlan both leading from the front.
The game commenced and Bristol Rovers came out of the blocks with a lively nature as Joey Barton’s side look to avoid relegation. They were quick to pressurise Sunderland, with efforts from Zain Westbrooke, Jonah Ayunga and Zain Walker in the opening exchanges. At the other end, quick thinking from Sunderland nearly caught out the hosts as Bristol Rovers switched off from the free kick before Anssi Jaakkola kept out Lynden Gooch’s attempt.
The opening goal arrived after thirty-nine minutes of play, as Aiden O’Brien met Aiden McGeady’s lofted corner to fire the lads’ ahead from ten yards out.
Sunderland would hope to control the second half and find an eighteenth clean sheet of the season. The goalscorer, Aiden O’Brien, had a superb opportunity to double the score as he fired his effort high over the bar from a promising position. More chances followed, as Aiden McGeady’s looping effort found the roof of the net and Charlie Wyke had a chance saved. McGeady troubled Bristol Rovers once again, as his free kick hit the outside of the post. Bristol Rovers mustered a couple of late chances after putting on the pressure, but they failed to put the ball past Lee Burge. Not the prettiest of performances but another massive three points in the bag.
Obviously, victory at this particular stage of our season is incredibly important as it means that we are one step closer to our goal of automatic promotion. With that being said, there is still a long way to go and we must continue our momentum throughout. Amongst our remaining games there are some tricky fixtures, including two games against Blackpool and one against Hull City at the KCOM.
Coming up next is a difficult game against Oxford United followed by a huge match just three days later against Peterborough United. There are still plenty of points to play for and equally plenty of potential slip-ups. Our approach should be to take each individual game as it comes and hopefully this will see us go up to the Championship next season.