Sunderland 1 Charlton Athletic 2: Top-two hopes are hit by a damaging defeat at Stadium of Light
Sunderland were left to rue their slack defending and an inspired display from Charlton Athletic goalkeeper Ben Amos as their automatic promotion hopes were dealt a major blow on Saturday afternoon.
A late Josh Scowen goal had raised hopes of another stirring comeback from the Black Cats, but they were unable to extend their unbeaten run.
Charlton had twice benefited from poor set piece defending to take an ultimately unassailable lead, Alex Gilbey scoring after Scowen had sliced into his own net in the first half.
Sunderland created plenty of chances through the game, but were denied regularly by Amos.
On an afternoon where Hull City and Peterborough United both won, Sunderland’s hopes of finishing in the top were taken out of their own hands.
Both sides had been in impressive form coming into the game and both were in need of the three points to bolster their position, so it was perhaps unsurprising that the contest began in an open an entertaining fashion.
Charlton threatened first with a superb cross to the back post, Carl Winchester doing well to cover and head away from a dangerous area.
Preston North End target man Jayden Stockley has proved to be an astute January addition for the visitors and it was noticeable from the very early stages that they would try and play up to him quickly and efficiently.
Johnson’s side showed plenty threat of their own, however, and missed two glorious chances to get ahead in the first ten minutes.
The first was almost a stunning team goal, starting when Dion Sanderson played an early diagonal pass out to the left flank. Wyke flicked it on to McGeady, who sprung a first-time pass over the defence and into the box. Wyke met it first time, his volley dropping just wide of the far post. Amos was beaten.
Wyke created the next chance for himself, swooping quickly when Pratley took one touch too many in midfield. The striker ran through on goal and tried to chip Amos as he went to ground, but the goalkeeper did well to stick up his right palm and claw the ball clear.
Sunderland were enjoying the better of tye game, but Charlton were a threat both from set pieces and when they counter-attacked at speed.
They took the lead just after the half hour mark from a set play, but it was a setback that the Black Cats would feel was largely self inflicted. Johnson was insistent that there had been a foul as Forster-Caskey’s corner came into the box, but Burge ought to have done better as he palmed Inniss’ towering header towards goal. Scowen still had the chance to clear, but could only slice into the roof of his own net on the half volley.
The response from Sunderland was excellent, again denied by Amos as McFadzean broke into the box and fired an effort towards the far corner. McGeady then saw an effort deflected over the bar just before the break as they continued to apply pressure.
They started the second half in much the same positive fashion, McGeady twice shooting over the bar from the edge of the area.
Sunderland were on top, but Charlton looked strong on the break with Jaiyesimi and should have extended their lead when Stockley somehow managed to head a cross from the left winger onto the post. The Black Cats did not heed the warning, and were punished within a minute when Stockley won a long throw into the box.
Sunderland had two attempts to stop Gilbey after his initially poor touch, but they were unable to clear their lines and the midfielder was able to stab an effort through Burge and into the back of the net.
Johnson had been in the process of making four changes to try and get his side back level and now they had a mountain to climb.
That second goal had swung the pendulum of the game significantly, and the momentum they had been building in the early stages of the half was checked. It was Charlton who went closest to scoring again when Gilbey was again allowed to break into the box, Burge on this occasion doing well to palm his drive clear of danger.
Sunderland looked laboured, but it was another moment of magic from McGeady that broke the game open.
As he had done in those opening exchanges, he sprung Wyke clear with an excellent ball over the top. Amos did superbly to race off his line and block, springing up again to then deny Stewart in the follow-up. It was third time lucky for the Black Cats as Scowen cleverly stooped to meet the bouncing ball on the edge of the area, heading into the empty net and reviving his side’s hopes of extending their unbeaten run.
Charlton were pinned in all of a sudden, Sunderland building pressure and getting bodies forward. The frustration was that too often their delivery from dangerous areas was too close to the goalkeeper, the excellent Amos too easily able to gather and take time out of the game.
Five minutes of added time passed without the home side being able to forge another clear opening as Charlton held on with relative comfort.
Sunderland XI: Burge; Power, Sanderson, O’Nien, McFadzean (Hume, 61); Gooch (Stewart, 61), Winchester (Jones, 60) , Scowen, McGeady; O’Brien (McLaughlin, 60), Wyke
Subs: Matthews, Diamond, Leadbitter
Charlton Athletic XI: Amos; Matthews, Pearce, Inniss, Purrington; Gilbey, Pratley, Forster-Caskey; Jaiyesimi (Gunter, 73), Maatsen (Millar, 66), Stockley
Subs: Schwartz, Watson, Shinnie, Oshilaja, Maynard-Brewer
Bookings: Forster-Caskey, 49 Gilbey, 56