Sunderland twice threw away a lead to draw 2-2 with Gillingham after failing to deal with the aerial and physical threat of the visitors. Aiden McGeady gave the lads an early lead with a deflected strike, but Sunderland soon found themselves under the cosh and Steve Evans’ side equalised through Alexander MacDonald after Sunderland failed to clear a long throw. Grant Leadbitter put Sunderland back in the lead before the break and though both sides had chances in the second half it was Gillingham who snatched a point at the death with Jordan Graham capitalising on Sunderland’s inability to defend long balls.
Lee Johnson made two changes to the side that beat Ipswich 1-0 at Portman Road on Tuesday evening. As expected, Bailey Wright missed out with a concussion and was replaced by Tom Flanagan whilst Jack Diamond started in place of Carl Winchester. Having made a double loan swoop on Friday Johnson was able to name Southampton left back Jake Vokins on the bench though Rangers winger Jordan Jones wasn’t registered in time to be involved.
Sunderland opened the scoring after five minutes through Aiden McGeady’s deflected shot from the edge of the box. The lads had dominated the opening stages of the game in terms of possession without really threatening the Gillingham goal. This changed when Diamond put in a decent cross from the right which the keeper tipped away towards McFadzean on the left flank. McFadzean fed the ball inside to McGeady on the corner of the box who saw his shot loop up off the defender and nestle into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
At the other end Gillingham threatened when a cross from the right presented Cundy with a decent chance but he couldn’t make good contact with his header under pressure from Willis. The visitors then forced a corner after Flanagan was forced to turn another decent cross behind, but Sunderland cleared the set piece. Gillingham had an effort on goal after fifteen minutes when Olly Lee was afforded too much space on the edge of the box to turn and shoot but fortunately his low shot was off target.
Gillingham continued to be the better side after Sunderland had opened the scoring and went close again when Sunderland failed to defend a free kick. The long ball into the box was allowed to bounce with Connor Ogilvie picking it up and turning inside Charlie Wyke’s challenge before aiming a low shot goalward which Flanagan blocked. The loose ball fell to Slattery on the edge of the box, but his low shot was also charged down.
The pressure from the visitors inevitably told and they drew level just before the half hour mark through Alexander MacDonald. Gillingham had hurled a long throw into the box from the right wing which Grant Leadbitter attempted to head clear. However, his clearance was only as far as MacDonald on the edge of the box who drove a volley into the bottom left hand corner past Lee Burge. Gillingham almost took the lead a couple of minutes later when a cross from the right found MacDonald unmarked at the back post, but he crashed a left footed effort off the bar.
Sunderland eventually managed to venture into the Gillingham half five minutes before the break when Max Power put in a good cross from the right wing which was turned behind for a corner. Leadbitter put in a decent cross which caused a scramble in the six-yard box before the ball was cleared by Gillingham but only as far as Tom Flanagan on the edge of the box. Flanagan did well to fire a low shot towards the bottom left hand corner which the keeper tipped round the post, but Gillingham cleared the resulting corner.
The lads were awarded a penalty before the break after Aiden McGeady was brought down in the box. Grant Leadbitter saw his penalty saved by the keeper with his shot a decent height for the keeper to parry out diving to his right. However, Leadbitter was able to follow in his effort and nod the ball past the keeper to give Sunderland the lead at half time despite being on the back foot for much of the half.
Neither manager made any substitutions at half time and Sunderland got the second period underway kicking towards the North Stand. Lee Johnson’s side almost scored within a minute of the restart when Josh Scowen latched onto Max Power’s long ball forward down the right. Scowen stood up a decent cross into the six-yard box for Charlie Wyke but Wyke’s header clipped the top of the bar.
Lee Johnson made an early change in the second half with Lynden Gooch replacing Jack Diamond. Immediately following the change, the visitors almost equalised when a free kick was launched into the Sunderland box and not cleared. Oliver went through on goal but dragged a shot wide of the mark with Lee Burge doing enough advancing off his line to put him off.
At the other end Sunderland fashioned a chance with half an hour remaining but Aiden McGeady couldn’t make good contact with his volley. Max Power had put a good cross in from the right which Charlie Wyke rose highest too to nod into the path of McGeady. However, McGeady’s effort from the centre of the box albeit on his stronger left foot was sliced and gathered by the keeper. Ten minutes later Charlie Wyke seized on a loose ball and drove into the box from the right wing and with no other options opted to shoot but his effort was wide.
With ten minutes remaining Sunderland almost conceded an equaliser when they failed to deal with another long throw from Gillingham. The ball was flung in from the right-hand side with Cundy getting his head on it ahead of a red and white shirt before Oliver hit the outside of the post with an overhead kick. A couple of minutes later Sunderland again failed to deal with a long ball into the box but with Akinde looking in a great position to score Grant Leadbitter produced a fantastic tackle to hook the ball out of his path.
Having seen his side come under increased pressure Lee Johnson made a double change for the final stages of the game with Dion Sanderson and Luke O’Nien replacing Charlie Wyke and Grant Leadbitter. The lads had a great opportunity to kill the game when Aiden McGeady produced a superb piece of skill on the left-hand side of the box to leave his man for dead before squaring the ball to Aiden O’Brien, but his shot was charged down.
Sunderland were made to pay for the miss as Gillingham equalised at the death through Jordan Graham. Yet again Sunderland’s defence failed to deal with a long ball pumped into the area with Willis outmuscled and outjumped by Oliver. Oliver nodded the ball into the path of Graham, who had been left unmarked by McFadzean who had went walk about, and Graham rounded Burge before blasting into the roof of the net to seal a deserved point for Steve Evans’ side.
Final Score: Sunderland 2 Gillingham 2 ALS Man of the Match: Aiden McGeady
Sunderland: Burge; Power, Willis, Flanagan, McFadzean; Scowen, Leadbitter (Sanderson 87); Diamond (Gooch 54), McGeady; Wyke (O’Nien 87), O’Brien.
Subs: Embleton, Matthews (gk), Winchester, Vokins.
Gillingham: Bonham; Jackson, Tucker, Cundy, Ogilvie; Slattery (Johnson 87), Dempsey (O’Keefe 52); Graham, Lee, MacDonald (Akinde 62); Oliver.
Subs: Willock, McKenzie, Bastien.
Referee: Oliver Langford