Sunderland move closer to the League One play-off places after Southend triumph
A superb diving header from Luke O’Nien proved to be the difference as Sunderland edged past Southend United at the Stadium of Light.
O’Nien’s first half goal was his third in as many home league games, and lifted his side to the brink of the play-off positions.
The Black Cats had thumped Tranmere Rovers on their last outing at the Stadium of Light and Phil Parkinson had gone with a side and shape not dissimilar from that night.
Sunderland looked to be picking up where they left off, crisp and purposeful on the ball in the early stages.
They were dominating both possession and territory, with new Southend boss Sol Campbell opting to play with a back five.
Despite that early pressure, it was the away side who forged the first real opening. Midfielder Isaac Hutchinson spotted a gap and drove into space, reaching the byline unchallenged before delivering a good cross to the back post. Wing-back Elvis Bwomono arrived unmarked but couldn’t connect clearly, slicing his effort wide of the goal on the bounce.
Sunderland were sparked into action, Denver Hume teeing up Aiden McGeady at the other end, the winger cutting inside and firing wide.
Hume was thriving, constantly driving into the space between Southend’s wing-back and central defenders. He teed up Conor McLaughlin after another fine run downfield, but the Northern Irishman fired his cross out of play.
The youngster’s persistence paid off five minutes later when this time he opted to drive down the touchline, playing a perfect cross into the box. Luke O’Nien, back in attacking midfield, showed tremendous desire to meet the ball with a diving header and get his side in the lead.
For a while it looked as if the Black Cats could swiftly go through the gears, getting into a number of promising positions.
Their final ball was just lacking, typified when Chris Maguire sliced a promising chance over the bar after WIll Grigg had a shot charged down.
For all their control, they were not testing Nathan Bishop in the Southend goal and they were fortunate before the break when Simon Cox was allowed to drop into space at the back post. He crossed back across goal and Brandon Goodship looked certain to equalise, only to spurn the chance by slicing his effort away from goal.
The Black Cats started the second half well, going close when Grigg headed a good cross from McLaughlin over the bar.
Hume continued to threaten, forcing a corner after one superb, mazy run into the box.
SOuthend were seeing more of the ball and getting more bodies in advanced positions, though Jon McLaughlin and the defence in front of him was rarely troubled.
Parkinson threw on Duncan Watmore in the search for more energy in the final third, and his side almost extended their lead minutes later when McGeady shifted the ball onto his right foot and forced a decent stop from Bishop from the edge of the area.
They came close again with 20 mintues to play after a fine move, McGeady finding Watmore with an excellent lofted pass. Watmore did well to control and showed good composure to lay up for McLaughlin, who fizzed a good cross into a dangerous area. O’Nien connected well but his effort was straight at Bishop.
The away side were beginning to tire and struggled to contain the lively Watmore, who went close to a fine solo goal when he drove into space at the edge of the area and fired wide on his weaker foot.
Southend were struggling but did create half a chance when Joel Lynch’s clearance struck his own player, the loose ball falling for Tom Hopper who couldn’t trouble McLaughlin with a poor effort.
That rather summed up a limited attacking display from the away side, who couldn’t produce any dangerous shots in a flat end to the game as Sunderland secured a valuable clean sheet and climbed up the table.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; McLaughlin, Willis, Lynch, Hume; Dobson, Power; Maguire (Watmore, 62), O’Nien, McGeady (Leadbitter, 85); Grigg (McNulty, 77)
Subs: Patterson, McGeouch, Flanagan, Kimpioka
Southend XI: Bishop, Bwomono, Ralph, Milligan (Hyam, 77), Dieng, Hopper (Rush, 78), Cox, Goodship (Acquah, 63), Shaughnessy, Lennon, Hutchinson
Subs: Oxley, Ndukwu, Demetriou, Taylor
Bookings: Hopper. 72 McLaughlin, 83 O’Nien, 90