Late controversy as Sunderland have effort ruled out in 1-0 defeat to Burton Albion
Sunderland were left to rue a host of missed chances in the first half as they fell to their first defeat of the season at Burton Albion.
The Black Cats forged a host of openings through the opening period, denied by the outstanding Ben Garratt and some poor finishing at the crucial moment.
Burton responded strongly in the second half and a quite stunning strike from Jonny Smith, who would also hit the bar, proved to be the difference.
The hosts will have felt their strike was fair reward for their tenacity, but Lee Johnson and the travelling support will have been left baffled as to how their side were unable to get on the scoresheet.
Sunderland had over twenty shots and many were good openings.
Their night qas summed up when Tom Flanagan looked to have headed in an equaliser with seconds to play, only for the offside flag to be raised.
Burton had long proved challenging opponents for Sunderland, and their excellent start to the campaign under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink served notice that this would be no different.
Fresh from an eye-catching two-one win over Ipswich Town, the hosts started with typical tenacity and intensity.
They had the first half chance of the game when a long throw dropped for O’Connor on the edge of the area, but his first-time volley ultimately dropped well wide.
Sunderland looked steady enough, but there was little indication of the golden chance that would fall there way ten minutes in. Another set piece was dealt with well by the Black Cats, experienced winger Lucas Akins seemingly having the simple task of heading it back into a dangerous area.
He appeared to lose his footing, and in a flash McGeady was away. He carried the ball at least thirty yards through the Burton half, but his attempt at a chip was too weak and Garratt was able to claw it clear.
That chance had come largely from nowhere, but it sparked a ten minute period in which the Black Cats were left baffled as to how they had not taken the lead.
With Dan Neil dropping deep and playing some excellent through the balls, the visitors began to forge openings at will.
Gooch was the first to go close, his effort inches deflected inches wide after a swift break. Stewart then had a one-on-one opening of his own, released by an excellent through ball from Tom Flanagan.
Garratt was again equal to the task, Stewart’s effort too close to him.
Sunderland continued to swarm forward, a superb move around the edge of the Burton box culminating in another effot from McGeady, who flashed one just wide of the far post from a narrow angle.
The tempo was excellent, and Burton were on the ropes.
Those missed chances were always likely to forge tension, and Burton slowly began to find a foothold.
They went close when the visitors were unable to clear their lines, Patrick able to turn in the box before seeing his low effort deflected just wide of the far post. From the following corner O’Connor had another long-range opening, his effort closer but still ultimately off target.
To their credit Sunderland moved though the gears again, and had a number of other openings before the break.
Gooch drew an asy save from Garratt after gathering an excellent lay-off from Stewart. The Scot himself then drew a tremendous stop from Garratt, the striker meeting Elliot Embleton’s precise cross at the back post.
Embleton and Gooch then both fired over from the edge of the area, as a frenetic and often high-quality half somehow ended with the scores still level.
The Black Cats started the second half with more bright passing and a flurry of early pressure, but found themselves in trouble when Cirkin was caught under a long ball. The ever-lively Smith broke at pace and when the ball found its way to Akins at the back post, he looked certain to score. The recovery run from Flanagan was excellent, diverting the ball away for a corner.
The hosts had an even better chance when Leak got a free run at a deep free kick, the defender heading over when he ought to have scored.
Sunderland were still threatening, Winchester drawing another solid stop from Garratt as he drove in from the right flank.
If the Black Cats had the edge through most of the first half, then this was far more even and when the opener came, it was with the run of play.
The visitors were caught out of shape and the ball broke for Smith on the edge of the box. The finish was outstanding, Burge left with no chance as the ball flew into the far corner.
Sunderland responded with a double substitution but Burton were impressive now, Johnson’s side struggling to build any real sustained spell of pressure.
The momentum began to turn with fifteen to play, substitute Pritchard going close with a long-range effort before Stewart was unable to connect with a dangerous cross.
Garratt then made an excellent stop from Broadhead with what was the striker’s first real touch on debut, before Smith rocked the crossbar with an even better effort than his opener at the other end.
There was no sign of a pulsating contest slowing down towards the end.
Sunderland continued to press for an equaliser, but Garratt was again equal to their best efforts.
He saved well from a long-range Pritchard effort, before O’Nien fired over from inside the box.
It looked like Flanagan had finally scored when he nodded in Gooch’s cross, but the flag was controversially raised.