Sunderland 1 Lincoln City 3: Lee Johnson sees red as Chris Maguire scores hat-trick
Chris Maguire scored a hat-trick as Sunderland’s automatic promotion ambitions were dented on a woeful night at the Stadium of Light.
Maguire played the role of pantomime villain to perfection, celebrating his first in the face of his former head coach Lee Johnson and setting his side on the way to a 3-1 win.
The Black Cats briefly had hope when Ross Stewart halved the deficit, but a red card to Carl Winchester always looked as if it had left the home side with too much to do.
In truth they had been well, well short of their best long Maguire began to thrive, lacking anything like the intensity and threat which has underpinned the unbeaten run which is now at an end.
All in all it was a calamitous night, and one that handed the advantage to Rotherham and Wigan.
Though Wycombe’s late equaliser had come as a significant blow, the quality of Sunderland’s attacking play had sent Wearside into the game enthused.
Right from the off, though, there was a slackness to to the passing that had been so potent and so precise in recent weeks.
The home side, it must be said, were not helped by a Stadium of Light pitch that had regressed from its already alarming state in the latter stages of 2021.
Johnson’s side were having plenty of possession but getting nowhere with it, Lincoln defending in numbers and then breaking at speed.
They forged the first opening when Morgan Whittaker drew a comfortable save after being played into space on the right flank, but perhaps the key moment of the half had come five minutes previous.
Maguire was late to a challenge and scythed through Winchester, the Sunderland dug-out furious and insistent that it was a red-card offence.
A yellow followed, along with some choice words between the attacking midfielder and his former head coach.
The home side continued to labour, with only Jack Diamond offering any real threat in what was a lively showing on his first start since being recalled from his loan spell at Harrogate Town.
There had been little goalmouth action when the visitors struck on the half-hour mark.
It was a goal of real quality but one that summed up Sunderland’s insipid early performance, switching off after a foul and failing to realise the threat of a quick free kick. Flanagan did well to get back into position and block the initial effort from Adelakun, but the follow up was met by Maguire on the half volley at a narrow angle. Patterson was caught off guard, and couldn’t keep it out the net.
Maguire held his hands up to the home support who had applauded him early on, but proceeded to run thirty yards down the touchline to celebrate in front of Johnson.
When he writhed on the floor after a challenge from Winchester soon after, before quickly rising to his feet when a yellow was produced, the response was furious.
It was vintage Maguire, who had the stage he craves.
The goal did lead to a brief response from Sunderland, who finally forced a save from Griffiths when he palmed a header from Stewart clear.
But Sunderland went into the break having created next to nothing, and in danger of falling to a costly result.
Johnson resisted the urge to change personnel, but did drop Winchester back to right back. After a sluggish start the Black Cats did begin to improve, Stewart denied a the back post only by an excellent defensive block.
It looked like the home side were starting to build something resembling momentum, but all it took was one counter and the game was up.
Sunderland were exposed and when Flanagan failed to clear a through ball, Maguire was through. Winchester brought him down, earning a second yellow card and giving the 32-year-old the chance to fire his second into the top corner from the penalty spot.
The game was drifting when from nowhere the hosts had a lifeline, substitute O’Brien breaking into the channel and cutting a low cross to the heart of the box. Pritchard met it first, and was brought to the ground for a clear penalty.
Griffiths did well to make the initial save from Stewart, but the Scot was able to bundle the rebound over the line and all of a sudden an unlikely comeback had life.
The visitors had to do superbly to clear off the line when Griffiths came for a free kick from deep and got nowhere near it, before a quick break forced to make a strong stop from Embleton.
The atmosphere was reaching a crescendo but just as there looked to be something in the game, Sunderland were again the architects of their own downfall.
A corner broke for Gooch on the edge of the box and when his swing found only fresh air, Maguire was through once again. The defence was nowhere to be seen, and the forward fired across Patterson for his hat-trick.
All momentum was gone for the home side, who were unable to create another chance of note as they fell to what could prove a costly defeat.
The night would get even worse in stoppage time, with Doyle fortunate to escape a red for a wild challenge.
Johnson then saw red after stepping in to try and pull his young defender out of the ensuing melee, meaning he now faces another touchline suspension.
Sunderland XI: Patterson; Winchester, Flanagan, Doyle, Cirkin (Hume, 64); Neil, Embleton; Gooch, Pritchard (Hawkes, 80), Diamond (O’Brien, 64); Stewart
Subs: Carney, Xhemajli,Younger, Taylor
Lincoln City XI: Griffiths; Poole, Fiorini, Eyoma, Bramall; McGrandles, Bishop (Melbourne, 58), Sanders; Maguire, Adelakun (Sorensen, 75), Whittaker (Robson, 86)
Bookings: Maguire, 10 Bishop, 22 Winchester, 40 Eyoma, 42 McGrandles, 84
Red Card: Winchester, 58