Sunderland 4 Barnsley 2: Black Cats win thriller to boost promotion hopes

Sunderland celebrate Josh Maja's goal.
Sunderland celebrate Josh Maja's goal.

This had been marked as Sunderland's biggest night of the season so far and the Black Cats delivered in some style.

True, Barnsley asked questions of the hosts and at one stage in the second half, they looked like mounting a remarkable three goal comeback.

But their quality was never in question.

Their squad is physical and technically good, and so many were eager to see how Sunderland fared.

While defensively exposed at times, they created a litany of chances and in truth, ought to have scored far more than the four they did register.

Handed a central role by Jack Ross, Aiden McGeady delivered his best performance in a red and white shirt and typified a side that carved open their opponents on occasions.

A cagey opening reflected the stakes of the game but once it broke open, it quickly transformed into a superb game between to genuinely vibrant teams.

The Black Cats should have taken the lead after a wonderful team move that saw them sweep the ball from right to left. Reece James delivered an excellent cross but Josh Maja, normally so ruthless in the box, could only head wide.

Cauley Woodrow then fired over at the other end after Tom Flanagan gave the ball away.

Jack Ross had again altered his system, recalling Chris Maguire in an extremely fluid attacking unit.

After his outstanding show at Walsall, Aiden McGeady was given the licence to drift and find space, and the Irishman was influential in a spell of complete domiannce for the hosts.

He won a penalty when Dimitri Cavare misjudged a long kick from Jon McLaughlin, sending Maguire into space.

He found McGeady who took on Ethan Pinnock, the centre-back diving in and committing the foul. McGeady stepped up and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way.

The game had barely restarted when Josh Maja made it two.

Adam Matthews advanced and found the young striker with an audacious pass. Maja took one touch before spinning away from Pinnock, curling an impeccable finish into the far corner.

It should have been three when he was presented with a free header, Maguire crossing from the byline after another excellent attack.

He again nodded wide, but Lynden Gooch soon consigned that to memory with an effort from the edge of the area.

McGeady was again at the heart of the move, Barnsley struggling to pick his movements up.

Barnsley rallied, their attacking quality never in question.

Jon McLaughlin made a fine save when the ball broke into the area from the left, but after Gooch sliced his clearance, Kieffer Moore was able to fire home.

They almost reduced the deficit to one just before the break, Woodrow collection Moore's header and hitting the post with an effort that had McLaughlin beaten.

Despite an early effort from McGeady, the visitors picked up exactly where they had left off and eventually made a sequence of corners tell, Moore rising unmarked to thump home at the near post.

Sunderland were on the ropes, but missed a priceless opportunity to restore their two-goal advantage.

McLaughlin found McGeady with an outstanding long free-kick, the winger beating his man with ease and sending a wicked delivery across the box.

A diving Luke O'Nien, brought on for Josh Maja, connected with the cross but not well enough and the chance drifted agonizingly wide.

While Barnsley remained an obvious threat, Sunderland had steadied a touch and had another great opportunity when Maguire ran clear. He looked to take the ball beyond the onrushing Adam Davies but the goalkeeper did well to clear the danger.

Barnsley's threat had diminished and Jack Ross's side were able to settle the contest when O'Nien got his reward for another one of those adventurous runs into the box.

McGeady was unselfish in playing the ball across goal, where the sliding midfielder was able to turn goalward.

It marked an impressive display from the hosts, who unquestionably wobbled but put on an impressive show of their attacking quality.

Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; Matthews, Flanagan, Baldwin, James; Power, Honeyman; Gooch (Oviedo, 90), Maguire (Sinclair, 85), McGeady; Maja (O'Nien, 59)

Subs: Patterson, Ozturk, Hackett, Mumba

Barnsley XI: Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Fryers (Brown, 59); Thiam, McGeehan, Mowatt, Woodrow (Adeboyejo, 85); Potts (Moncur, 78), Moore

Subs: Greatorex, Pinillos, Bahre, Jackson

Bookings: Cavare, 32 Pinnock, 74

Attendance: 28,514