Sunderland 1 Rotherham United 1: League One play-off battle to go to the wire at Morecambe on final day

Sunderland’s League One campaign is heading for a tense final day but a late Michael Ihiekwe own goal means a win will guarantee Alex Neil’s side a top-six place.
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Ihiekwe had opened the scoring with an emphatic in the first and in truth Sunderland were comprehensively outplayed from then on, but the home side’s late habit played out again when Jack Clarke’s dangerous cross was turned in off the crossbar.

It rescued what for much of the contest looked like an unlikely point for the hosts, who looked well off the pace.

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Neil continued his habit of springing a surprise with his starting XI, Jay Matete recalled and Elliot Embleton surprisingly dropping to the bench after his superb performance against Cambridge.

Sunderland rescued a point late on against Rotherham UnitedSunderland rescued a point late on against Rotherham United
Sunderland rescued a point late on against Rotherham United

Trai Hume was also handed his first start since Neil’s first game in charge, and from the off it looked like a team picked to try and match Rotherham’s physicality and running power. Sunderland were trying to turn the visiting defence early, going long and into the channels at every opportunity.

It was working well enough in a frantic opening quarter in which Sunderland dominated territory without creating chances, but sloppy defending turned the game on its head.

Dan Barlaser fizzed an excellent corner to the back post and with Ihiekwe unmarked, he was able to head past a helpless Anthony Patterson.

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The visitors were visibly buoyed and from there until half time they were dominant.

Wiles and Osei-Tutu both fired wide from the edge of the box as Sunderland failed to build any meaningful spell of possession. They were being outfought all over the pitch, and lacked composure when they did win it back.

Stewart and Broadhead were too deep and largely isolated; the only real positive of the half being that Neil’s side made it through without conceding further.

Though Patterson had few saves to make, the visitors looked dangerous and Ogbene twice was just unable to find a team-mate when crossing from the byline.

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Neil resisted the urge to make changes at the break and Sunderland did fore a decent chance when Gooch broke down the right, his cutback to the edge of the area fired over the bar by Corry Evans.

But Rotherham quickly regained their composure and looked comfortable and in control as Neil began to turn to his bench with half an hour to play.

The visitors had another good opportunity from a corner but this time Wood could only head straight at Patterson after getting in front of his marker.

Moving Gooch back over to the right flank was beginning to give Sunderland an outlet as regularly beat his marker, and with just over ten minutes to play he a drew a foul from which substitute Pritchard curled a dangerous effort into the side netting.

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As the game entered the final five minutes it was the visitors on top with a flurry of corners, Smith missing a major chance to kill the game at close range

Sunderland were still yet to have a shot on target when Clarke cut in from the left, and with no one around him Ihiewke erred with his clearance and left his goalkeeper with no chance.

Sunderland XI: Patterson; Wright, Batth, Doyle; Hume (Clarke, 60), Evans, Matete (Embleton, 70), Gooch; O’Nien, Broadhead (Pritchard, 53), Stewart

Subs: Hoffmann, Xhemajli, Neil, Roberts

Rotherham United XI: Johansson; Harding, Barlaser, Wood, Osei-Tutu (Mattock, 75), Wiles, Ogbene, Rathbone (Lindsay, 79) , Ihiekwe, Edmonds-Green, Smith

Subs: Chapman, Bola, Odoffin, Kayode, Kelly

Bookings: Matete, 7 Rathbone, 76

Attendance: 33,119