The Imps claimed a strong point this afternoon against the division’s in-form team and took another step towards assuring a spot in the play-offs at the end of the season.
There’s no doubt Sunderland are on a roll, and as they brush aside other teams I think they’ll be in the top two come May, but we’re proving that despite the run of poor form, we have some attributes that cannot be lost. We’ve been woeful over the past 180 minutes, maybe even 225, but this afternoon we went toe to toe with a very good side, and came out feeling that we could have won the game.
Draws are only good if you pepper your record with wins, and in the context of a four-game run, two points are not great, but Sunderland away is as tough as it gets in this division, and we’ve now been there twice in a month and avoided defeat both times. It wasn’t all about the result though today, it was the performance, once of resilience, commitment and, apart from one mad moment, defensive stability.
The Imps made one change to the team that were humbled by Gillingham on Tuesday. Cohen Bramall came in for the injured Tom Hopper, with us reverting back to a 4-3-3 and Tayo Edun pushing up into the attacking midfield role for what I think might be the first time this season. He finished the Gillingham game brightly and I certainly feel the eight role is the one he shows the most composure in.
In a game that few fancied us to get anything from anyway, we started relatively brightly. As expected the home side had lots of possession, but without creating anything of note before the ten-minute mark. In fact, the only noteworthy aspect of the first ten minutes came from referee Carl Boyeson, who managed to check two corners and blow his whistle more often that a 90s raver at the Pleasuredome.
Cohen Bramall certainly had a decent start to the game showing his pace on one occasion, but it was Sunderland who got the first chance in, Max Power driving wide from distance. Within seconds, the Imps had faced another shot, weak playing out from the back saw the ball quickly turned over, with Grant Leadbitter smashing in an effort form 30-yards, which Palmer saved.
City responded to that with a couple of half-chances of our own. Bramall once again had his full-back on toast, but nobody got the end of his cross. There was a weak shout for handball, which shouldn’t have been given, and wasn’t. The Imps best chance of the opening 20 minutes fell to Rogers. The lively Edun combined with Bramall to set up Rogers, who let fly with a shot from 18-yards, but didn’t hit the target. Sadly, as proved to be the case against Gillingham, we only really looked like having shots from range as we struggled to carve open Sunderland’s resolute defence.
Regan Poole had kept Aiden McGeady quiet for the first 20 minutes, but as the clock ticked over to 21, the Eire man got his chance. He worked space and got a shot at Palmer’s goal, which the on-loan stopper saved. Within minutes, City got their best chance of the first half. Poole showed tenacity to harass O’Nien on the right flank, winning the ball and breaking two-on-one. The former MK Dons man opted to take the ball to a tight angle and shoot, when Callum Morton was in a better position, and Lee Burge was equal to it.
The game settled a little after that and to be fair, we looked like we were in it. Tayo Edun was getting quite advanced, but Morton was largely ineffective up front, starved off the ball. He chased a couple of lost causes, but not with complete conviction, and it seemed as though we’d try to frustrate the home side. Indeed, when Wyke cynically tripped Lewis Montsma for a booking on 33 minutes, it did seem like it was working.
On 38 minutes Morgan Rogers lost possession deep in the Sunderland half, but a quick and clever ball by Max Power found McGeady in space. He cut inside and lashed a shot over the goal, but it proved that we couldn’t switch off, not for a second. Sadly, a minute later, we did.
It wasn’t as bad as the goals against Gillingham, but after doing well in the corner to win the ball, Bramall’s clearance dropped straight at the feet of Power, who dropped a delicious cross onto the head of the unmarked McFadzean at the far post. Johnson had seemingly lost his runner, and with Poole coming infield to man-mark McGeady, it left the back stick undefended and McFadzean unopposed.
It felt like a real kick in the balls after a decent first half. We hadn’t really looked like scoring, but we had contained Sunderland, and there isn’t a fan reading this who wouldn’t have taken a draw before the game kicked off. However, once again City conceded the first goal, and with Hopper and Grant, we didn’t really look like scoring one, unless there was a moment of magic to be had.
Max Power did pick up a booking for a foul on Edun, giving us a great chance from a set-piece, but without Grant, we may as well have just been given a goal kick. The half finished 1-0 to Sunderland, a tough one to take after a decent 45, but probably fair on the balance of chances created.