How a bizarre afternoon played out as shambolic Sunderland throw away the lead twice against Accrington Stanley
Sunderland’s top-two hopes were all but extinguished in a shambolic second-half against Accrington Stanley.
There were shades of the 5-4 implosion against Coventry City two years ago as the Black Cats shipped three second-half goals to an opponent with little to play for through the remainder of the season.
Stanley attacked with gusto throughout but the manner with which they opened up the home side was scarcely credible at times.
Though the cusion to seventh remains five points, Lee Johnson now faces a challenge to arrest what is a six-game winless run.
Charlie Wyke had surged to 30 goals for the campaign in the opening exchanges, but by the final whistle that bright start felt like a distant memory.
Right from the off it was an open contest, both sides commiting bodies forward and it meant that unlike many games at the Stadium of Light this season, there would be space and time for Sunderland to play.
In a superb opening they made the most of it.
Johnson had made three changes to his side but the tweak to the set up that looked good was only marginal, Aiden O’Brien replacing Grant Leadbitter just giving the side another option on the final third.
The pressing from the front was excellent and it was there where the damage was done. O’Brien and Winchester combined to win possession deep in the Accrington half, before Gooch picked up possession just right of the box. His cross to the back post was was headed back across goal and into the far corner by Wyke.
There were similarities in the second, Josh Scowen pouncing on a loose ball in the middle and this time moving it out to the left. McGeady’s low cross was deftly knocked first-time past Savin to leave the visitors all but out of the game.
To their credit, John Coleman’s side had come to try and play and there were moments where they threatened. Adam Phillips twice fired just wide from the edge of the area, while Charles could have given his side the lead early on when he spun away from Bailey Wright and fired straight at Lee Burge.
Sunderland were for the most part the dominant force, though, and ought to have extended their lead considerably before the break.
O’Brien twice missed from one-v-one situations, while McGeady and Wyke came close to reprising their act when the striker just couldn’t reach another low cross at the near post.
There was much for Johnson to relish, with Denver Hume particularly impressive as he drove forward from the left and gave his side another outlet.
Slack defending gace the visitors a big boost at the start of the second half, Colby Bishop capitalising on loose play as he raced onto a through ball to slide a good finish past Burge.
From nowhere the hosts were under pressure, Accrington buoyed and causing problems.
They forged another opening when McConville fired into the side netting just before the hour mark; Johnson sufficiently troubled to introduce Grant Leadbitter in the search for some composure.
Sunderland, though, simply continued to struggle to gain any foothold in the game and when the equaliser came it was fully deserved.
The home side felt they should have had a free kick deep in the Accrington half for a handball but the referee ruled against them. There should have been little threat from that position, but as the dead ball was thumped deep into the Sunderland half there as an apparent complete breakdown in communication.
O’Nien tried to steer the header back to his goalkeeper but Burge had come too far, left to try and desperately back-pedal towards his own goal. He did managed to get a hand to the loose ball, but it was too little, too late.
Sunderland had thrown their advantage way and it could have been even worse, the home side fortunate when substitute Smyth blazed over at the back post under little pressure.
Johnson turned to his bench once again, and a breakdown in the Accrington defence almost gifted the Black Cats the lead once more.
Another long ball down the middle caused problems, and this time it was Jack Diamond who benefited as burst into the gap between the two centre-halves. His connection was good, but the ball just bounced wide of the far post.
The visitors had sensed their could be a third goal for them, but with that they leaving gaps to exploit.
Diamond was one of the main beneficiaries, driving into space after an Accrington corner. Sunderland had a 4-v-2 on the break and the young winger carried all the way to the edge of the area, before laying up the overlapping Power. His low effort was deflected past Savin, giving the home side a lead that had seemed unlikely moments before.
It lasted barely a minute; McConville stepping up to curl a superb free kick into the top corner from the edge of the area.
The drama was far from over.
The visitors should have taken the lead when breaking 5-v-v, but Phillips’ composure deserted him at the crucial moment as he sliced an effort wide of the far post.
Sunderland threw bodies forward in search of a winner, denied by a stunning goalline clearance as McGeady found space in the box.
Leadbitter then drew an excellent save by Savin as he took aim from range, but neither side were able to find a final breakthrough as Sunderland drifted away from automatic promotion contention.
Sunderland XI: Burge; Power, Wright, O’Nien, Hume; Winchester (Jones, 73), Scowen, Gooch (Leadbitter, 58); O’Brien (Diamond, 73), McGeady (Stewart, 90), Wyke
Subs: Matthews, Maguire, McFadzean
Accrington Stanley XI: Savin; Rodgers, Nottingham, Barclay, Burgess; Butcher (Smyth, 67), Conneely, McConville, Phillips; Charles, Bishop
Subs: Buckley, Russell, Uwakwe, Perritt, Mansell, Morgan
Bookings: Winchester, 42 Leadbitter, 61 Nottingham, 80 Smyth, 87