Sunderland 2 Accrington Stanley 1: How Cats came through a thrilling contest to seal another crucial League One win
Sunderland maintained their excellent start to the campaign with a thrilling win over Accrington Stanley.
Carl Winchester’s second-half goal sealed the points, after Dan Neil’s stunning first senior goal sent the Black Cats on their way.
Lee Johnson had by and large favoured continuity from the side in such good form before the international break, his only change being to introduce Thorben Hoffmann for his full debut from the off.
Accrington Stanley’s early-season form had been a reflection of their continued progress under John Coleman and as has so often been the case, they again showed a willingness to press and commit bodies forward right from the off.
Not often the case at the Stadium of Light, it made for an open and entertaining start.
Sunderland were under pressure when playing out from the back, but the result was that when they found a way through, there was vast space for their dangerous forward line to operate in.
They had the first chances of the game as Elliot Embleton broke into the box, but his effort was blocked and when Stewart met the follow up, it struck his own team-mate in Luke O’Nien.
Stanley’s first opening came from a set piece, and that was one of the main themes of the half.
Nottingham dropped onto the edge of the area as Sunderland cleared a free kick unconvincingly, his volley briefly having Hoffman scrambling before dropping wide of the far post.
Sunderland nevertheless were looking threatening every time they broke forward, forging a golden chance when Neil made a good overlapping run on the right. His cross from the byline cut the visiting defence open, but Gooch had just mistimed his run and could only head over the bar.
The Black Cats kept pushing, and before long Neil game them the lead.
Stanley’s defence closed him down quickly as a loose ball dropped for him on the edge of the area, but by shifting it onto his weaker foot he took three opponents out of the equation in an instant. Now he had time to pick his spot, smashing a left-footed effort past Trafford and into the top corner.
"He’s one of our own” boomed out from a jubilant Roker End.
The visitors kept trying to push forward, again going close from the second phase of a set piece as Butcher drove a low effort just wide of the far post.
From open play Sunderland looked just about the more likely, Embleton going close on the volley after good play from Stewart and Gooch down the left. They almost scored another outstanding goal when McGeady teed up Winchester, the right back firing an effort just wide of the far post as he drove infield towards goal.
That set-piece weakness did eventually prove costly, though.
McConville’s corner to the near psot was met by Nottingham, whose first-time header flew past Hoffmann and into the top corner.
That equaliser settled the visitors, and took some of the tempo out of the game as the interval approach.
Both sides would have a chance to take the lead, Sunderland breaking quickly when Sykes was caught in possession near the halfway line. Embleton picked the pass perfectly, but Gooch could only fire wide on his weaker foot.
The hosts had regained their composure but were fortunate that when Hoffmann came to claim a cross and missed it, the visitors were unable to convert.
Sunderland started the second half the brighter, Trafford doing well to deny McGeady and O’Nien in the early stages.
Coleman’s side had actually steadied from the early wave of pressure, but a fine move just before the hour mark restored Sunderland’s advantage.
A promising break down the right looked to have broken down as Stanley got back in numbers, but Embleton did well to keep the ball alive and eventually the ball found its way to McGeady.
In a central position right on the edge of the box, it looked certain that the winger would go for goal. Instead he played an excellent through ball, and Winchester showed his running power to meet it and fire past Trafford into the far corner.
That goal broke the game wide open, Sunderland pushing for a third and still ceding opening to their opponents at the other end.
The Black Cats twice went close as Embleton cut open the Stanley defence with his through balls.
On the first occasion Gooch just ran out of space as he tried to cross for McGeady at the back post, and on the second Trafford did superbly to claw the ball away as Stewart tried to take it round him just yards out.
McGeady then fired one just wide as Sunderland searched for the killer blow.
At the other end they were almost caught out as Doyle ceded possession on his own byline, only an outstanding block from Cirkin on the goalline denying the visitors another equaliser.
Sunderland continued to look for a third but wasteful finishing left them facing a nervy finish, Embleton unable to convert when Neil played him through on goal in another fine break.
Stanley bombarded the box in six minutes of stoppage time, but Sunderland survived to seal a big win.
Sunderland XI: Hoffmann; Winchester, Flanagan, Doyle, Cirkin; Neil, O’Nien; Gooch (Pritchard, 69), Embleton (Wright, 83), McGeady; Stewart
Subs: Burge, Alves, Broadhead, Evans, Huggins
Accrington Stanley XI: Trafford; Sykes, Nottingham, Sherring; Clark (Mumbongo, 73), Pell (Hamilton, 45), Morgan, Butcher (Malcolm, 73), McConville; Bishop, Charles
Subs: Mumbongo, Leigh, Nolan, Amankwah, Savin, Malcolm
Bookings: Pell, 24 Gooch, 24 Nottingham, 45 Flanagan, 49 Morgan, 70 Embleton, 77 Stewart 85