Sunderland 2-0 Ipswich
Coming into today’s game, things were looking good for Sunderland. Each of the top seven sides had failed to win yesterday, meaning a game that was always going to be important, with both sides in a recent, rich vein of form, now had that extra bit of significance. As it was, a vital 3 points for Sunderland now means they lie in 3rd, just 3 points behind leaders, Wigan.
For such a key game, it was excellent news, that the formerly injured George McCartney was able to return at the expense of Lynch, meaning that another player returning from injury, Stephen Wright, moved into right back and Darren Carter became an able replacement for Carl Robinson in the centre of midfield.
Another noticeable change was the crowd. For the first time in months, there were queues to get in and, once inside, the stadium looked slightly more complete than in any previous games. For whatever reason these fans turned up, they were treated to good display of football. However, in the opening minutes this was not all from Sunderland. With Sunderland looking nervous at the back to begin with, Dean Bowditch and Ian Westlake both could have opened the scoring if they had taken their half-chances early on. After that, though, both teams settled into a good rhythm as the game opened up. Both Sunderland and Ipswich looked dangerous and attacked well down each wing, although rarely creating a clear-cut chance. The chances that were on offer were long range efforts, the best of those falling to the two Darren’s, Bent and Carter, but both failed to capitalise. After a penalty shout from Ipswich after, what looked like a dive from Bowditch, it was Carter who was again involved, forcing the keeper to make a good save after a swerving left-foot shot. Between then and half time the only noticeable piece of action was the substitution of Bowditch, forced off by injury. Although both teams had their share of chances, it was Sunderland who will have left the pitch at half time with their tales up after good spells of possession and some late periods of pressure.
Sunderland seemed to carry this belief into the second half as well as they looked far more likely to score. The introduction of Lawrence for Whitley, who although he played well really failed to create, meant the Lads were now using both wings to full effect and both Arca and Carter showed early signs of promise, again just firing wide. Just like the week before, however, it was the introduction of Brown that led to Sunderland breaking the deadlock. After his 57th minute substitution for Stewart, it took just 5 minutes for the Lads to take the lead. His goal-bound header from a Lawrence corner was cheekily back-heeled in by Elliott, standing just inside the six-yard box. Brown was again involved in Sunderland’s second, just a quarter of an hour after that as he latched onto low Carter ball across the face of goal to take Sunderland into a seemingly unassailable lead. A lead which, for the last 15 minutes they were able to hang on to. The introduction of Michael Bridges failed to enthuse a third for Sunderland, whilst the introduction of 16 year old Darryl Knights couldn’t break down the strong Sunderland defence, the only defence to keep a clean sheet against Ipswich for over 50 games.
So, as Sunderland take another step towards the top of the division, many others around them take another step backwards. If the Lads are to gain promotion this year, we are going to need many more weekends like this.