Sunderland breathe new life into their promotion push with stunning Lincoln City win
Sunderland breathed new life into their League One promotion push with a stunning win at high-flying Lincoln City.
Lee Johnson’s first league win was all but secured in a first half where Sunderland survived some big chances, but scored three goals of exceptional quality.
Charlie Wyke doubled his tally in the second half as an increasingly confident Black Cats outfit assumed complete control of the contest.
They had benefited from the enterprise of Jack Diamond in the first half, a vibrant showing from the 20-year-old bringing a superb goal and some other key contributions. Grant Leadbitter’s penalty had opened up the scoring after an end-to-end start to the game, and set Sunderland on their way to their first league win in six games.
Their win over Michael Appleton’s side also cut the gap to the automatic places to just five points.
Johnson had vowed to attack Lincoln, insisting that after urging his players to bold, the onus was on him to do exactly that in his selection and in his approach.
The inclusion of Diamond was an early signal of his intention to do exactly that, the youngster raw but impressive at Oldham Athletic on Tuesday night.
A frenetic opening quarter to the game saw Sunderland ride their luck, and surge into an emphatic lead.
The Black Cats enjoyed the majority of possession right from the off, but the hosts were evidently happy to try and wait for openings to commit players to the counter attack. It almost paid off within minutes, Diamond caught on the ball and allowing Lincoln to surge clear. Brennan Johnson looked certain to score, but fired wide of the post as he looked to go across Lee Burge.
Johnson was presented with an even better opening just minutes later.
It came from Sunderland’s first meaningful effort, Max Power’s stinging drive from the edge of the area gathered well by Alex Palmer. The West Brom loanee proceeded to spring Johnson clear with a stunning kick from hand, taking Callum McFadzean out of the game as he looked to cover the danger. Lee Burge did well, slowing Johnson down just enough to force him wide and his effort into the side netting.
Within a moment, Sunderland were ahead.
Diamond had his first chance to drive into a dangerous area and took it with relish. He burst past two Lincoln defenders, drawing the foul from Jorge Grant as he tried to recover.
Leadbitter’s penalty was nerveless, sending Palmer the wrong way and giving his side a valuable lead.
They continued to press and commit bodies forward, Aiden McGeady curling a free-kick into the side netting from the edge of the area. The reward came 25 minutes in, Power building up play well down the right to force a throw in. The Black Cats took it quickly, and Conor McLaughlin played a good cross to the back post. McFadzean headed towards goal, and Wyke’s awareness to knock the loose ball goalwards was excellent.
Wyke was justifying his recall to the starting XI, an outlet for his side and relentless in his pressing.
Lincoln City continued to threaten, and Sunderland were on more than one occasion indebted to Lee Burge for some strong kicking under intense pressure.
The hosts were in the ascendancy when the third came, caught out as Sunderland won possession and broke with speed.
McGeady carried it all the way to the edge of the opposition box before releasing Diamond. It looked as if the youngster had taken too long in possession, but the 20-year-old produced a moment of real quality, delicately chipping the ball into the far corner on his weaker foot.
It should have been four before the break, Josh Scowen rifling an effort into the side netting after Wyke had done well to steal possession on the edge of the area.
Johnson reshuffled his pack at the interval, protecting Diamond after a half in which he had sparkled off the ball but was under pressure off it. Already on a yellow and a final warning from the referee thereafter, Chris Maguire was introduced to ensure the hosts weren’t handed any advantage in their bid to rescue an unlikely result.
Unsurprisingly, Michael Appleton’s side started the second half with the majority of the ball, with one or two half chances from set plays ultimately coming to nothing.
Sunderland were showing some element of intent to keep threatening, with McGeady twice drawing a save from Palmer as he took aim from distance.
The Black Cats increasingly began to control possession, weathering that early pressure in the half from the hosts and pushing forward.
With twenty minutes to go, they settled the contest with arguably their best goal yet.
Flanagan won possession well, before releasing Maguire with a superb through ball. Maguire burst past his marker, cutting the ball back to the edge of the six-yard box where Wyke was waiting to convert with an accomplished finish.
Lincoln rarely threatened thereafter, Sunderland continiung to enjoy the majority of possession and territory.
After an enterprising but chaotic start, they finished the game looking every inch an accomplished unit.
Sunderland XI: Burge; McLaughlin (Sanderson, 77), Wright, Flanagan, McFadzean; Leadbitter, Scowen (Dobson, 68), Power; Diamond (Maguire, 45), McGeady (Embleton 77), Wyke (Grigg, 82)
Subs: Graham, Matthews
Lincoln City XI: Palmer; Eyoma (Scully, 54), Walsh, Montsma, Edun; Jones, Gotts, Grant; Anderson, Johnson (Howarth, 81), Hopper
Subs: Long, Melbourne, Elbouzedi, Roughan
Bookings: Diamond, 28 McLaughlin, 52 Grant, 90