The Imps were given a sharp reminder of the quality required in League One as Sunderland handed out a thrashing at Sincil Bank.
After winning so comfortably in midweek, hopes were high that we might be in a position to go eleven points clear of Sunderland. Instead, the visitors dominated proceedings and not only bagged four, but also kept a clean sheet, the first team to do so this season.
The Imps made seven changes to the team which beat Shrewsbury on Tuesday night, but just one from the side that got the better of Rochdale. Robbie Gotts came into the midfield, with Conor McGrandles missing out due to the strain he picked up at the New Meadow. The big news pre-match was the inclusion of Gotts he’s been impressive in recent weeks at right-back but is thought to prefer the midfield role.
Whilst that might have got fans excited, the actual product sadly did not. It could have been very different, had the Imps been clinical in taking chances early on. It was a scrappy start to the game, Sunderland certainly looking brighter and causing problems down both flanks, with Callum McFadzean looking a real threat. Despite that, the Imps had the best chance of the opening exchanges when Brennan Johnson got away on the counter. Tayo Edun poked the ball through and was pole-axed as he did, but the ref waved paly-on as Johnson went one-on-one with Lee Burge. Sadly, the on-loan striker fired wide.
On 12 minutes Sunderland got the first corner of the game, which ended up of the feet of Max Power who fired straight at Alex Palmer. The keeper bowled the ball out quickly and City went through again, Johnson trying to round Burge when he arrived in the area. The keeper did well, forcing Johnson wide, and he opted to shoot, with the ball ending up in the side netting. It could have been 2-0 City, but not long after that positivity evaporated.
On 15 minutes Sunderland got a penalty for a foul which, on reflection, was not a foul. Jorge Grant was adjudged to have felled Jack Diamond as he broke into the area, when he clearly won the ball. Now, had it been us getting the penalty, as it was against Plymouth, we might have pointed out the tug on diamond a split second before justified a spot-kick. Whatever the ins and outs, it was a penalty and Leadbitter stroked the ball home.
That knocked City off their stride and soon after Michael Appleton got a talking to for his protesting. It seems that he was angry at the decision, but sadly it can’t be changed retrospectively. We got a dubious one against Plymouth which turned the game, swings and roundabouts I guess (through gritted teeth).
Sunderland took complete control for a spell after that, with Montsma picking up a yellow card for a soft foul. It did seem a tad inconsistent after Edun’s aggressor was let off earlier in the game, but don’t all decisions when you’re losing at home? The free kick ended up wide and in the side netting, but it was yet another chance. Minutes later, it was 2-0 anyway. The second was poor defensively, with multiple opportunities to clear or get a foot in before Charlie Wyke stabbed home. Whether it was poor or not, there was no doubt that it was fully deserved. City just didn’t deal with the threat from out wide, and hadn’t taken the two chances presented early doors.
After the second goal Sunderland took their foot off the gas a little, but it didn’t mean we got any decent chances. Johnson did fizz a ball over after combining with Edun, but it was neither a cross, nor a shot and never really threatened. After that, Sunderland clearly decided two goals wasn’t enough, upping the tempo with ease to bag a third. They broke, Jack Diamond came in off the attacking right and lofted a ball over Palmer and into the net for 3-0. The difference? Sunderland took their chances, City did not.
It should have been four after another break just before half time, but the Black Cats put the ball into the side netting. They had seven first half chances, four on target, three went in. City managed three shots, all off target. At this level, against these sorts of clubs, you cannot afford to waste a single chance. 3-0 certainly flattered the visitors, but 2-0 did not. It was a first half to forget, much the same as the first half at the Stadium of Light back in January.