Lincoln City 2 Sunderland 0: Promotion hopes hanging by a thread after shocking first leg of play-off semi-final
Sunderland’s promotion hopes were left hanging by a thread after a damaging 2-0 defeat at Lincoln City.
The Black Cats shipped two woeful goals in a second half where they had actually forged the better of the chances, let down by wasteful finishing and a superb display from emergency loan goalkeeper Josef Bursik.
They could have little complaints about the end result, though, given the insipid nature of their first-half performance and the lapses in their defending.
The second goal in particular was entirely self-inflicted, slack play allowing Brennan Johnson to charge down Lee Burge’s attempted clearance.
To reach Wembley Sunderland have a mountain to climb.
Sunderland had been up against if from the off, Lincoln unsurprisingly buoyed by the raucous backing of their home supporters.
Down their left flank the Black Cats were visibly uncomfortable, even if Tom Flanagan’s return did give them the welcome presence of another natural centre-back.
Anthony Scully was inches away from giving his side the lead as he found space on the right, a poor refereeing decision denying Burge the credit for what was a superb fingertip save.
The visitors did have one or two moments where their press won the ball in dangerous areas, but in the most part they were unconvincing as Hume was forced off with an injury.
Their forward play was lacking purpose and precision, too often allowing Lincoln to win possession and break into space.
Morgan Rogers and Lewis Montsma both went close for Lincoln, before another breakdown in communication allowed allowed them to turn over possession and break. Johnson beat burge with his low drive, but watched on in agony as it struck the post.
Johnson implored his side to respond. They had seen plenty of possession, but had ceded the better of the chances. If the plan was not unreasonably to take the sting out of the occasion away from home, then the results were unconvincing.
There were signs of life before the break, Gooch spinning away from Bridcutt and flashing an effort just wide of the far post.
McGeady then snatched at a loose ball in the box as Sunderland finally begun to build some pressure.
At the start of the second half they were denied twice by the woodwork, Bursik denying Jones with a stunning effort to turn his long-range effort onto the bar.
From the following corner, Wright thumped a free header onto the bar from eight yards.
Within minutes they had been made to pay. Burge had done superbly to deny Grant, but the visitors couldn’t clear their lines and the midfielder was able to then play a low cross to the back post. Sunderland didn’t deal with it, and Hopper had the simplest of finishes.
The visitors wobbled, but again drew a superb save from Bursik as McGeady finally found the time and space to work an effort.
The winger ought to have done better shortly afterwards, firing over the bar from a good position on the edge of the box.
With Johnson strengthening his attacking options it was Sunderland’s best spell of the game, but they were the architects of their own downfall as Flanagan played a pass back to Burge.
Neither had sensed the danger, Johnson pouncing to stop Burge’s effort and tap home.