Sunderland held to another frustrating draw at Northampton Town
The Black Cats looked lethargic on their return to action after a COVID-19 outbreak, struggling to create clear chances against a side who were content to let them try and force the issue.
Charlie Wyke missed his side’s two best chances, but both of those came from set pieces situations as his side laboured in open play.
Sunderland’s preparation had been far from ideal after the COVID-19 outbreak that had engulfed the club, but a significant improvement in the situation allowed Johnson to name a strong side. In a further boost, Josh Scowen made an early return from injury to ensure the starting XI had a settled look.
Northampton had come into the contest lifted by a significant win over Gillingham, and though Nicky Adams went close within an effort from distance five minutes, by and large they were happy to sit in and absorb pressure.
Sunderland forged a good early chance when Grant Leadbitter whipped a terrific free-kick from deep to the near post, with Charlie Wyke’s header flashing wide of the far post.
After those initial exchanges the game settled into a pattern where the onus was on Sunderland to try and break down a deep-lying home defence. Keith Curle’s side were content to get the ball into the channes early, looking for set pieces from which they could try and test Johnson’s side.
The Black Cats rarely looked troubled but were lacking quality in the final third. A series of niggling fouls prevented them building any real attacking momentum, with some neat build-up play yielding little in the way of clear chances.
Max Power tested Jonathan Mitchell from distance with twenty minutes played, but the Northampton goalkeeper was able to recover quicky after initially spilling the firmly-struck effort.
Sunderland came closest when they were able to steal possession on the halfway line, breaking quickly down the left flank. Aiden McGeady stood up a tremendous cross to the back post, but it just evaded the onrushing Scowen at the back post.
The challenge for Sunderland in the second half was to find another attacking gear, but their play in possession continued to underwhelm.
It was the hosts that went closest in the opening stages of the second half, Ryan Watston flashing an effort wide of the far post after finding space on the edge of the box.
Sunderland struggled to test Mitchell despite their dominance of the ball, with Dion Sanderson flashing a rare effort over the bar before Johnson turned to Gooch and Maguire for attacking inspiration.
The first real opening of the half came from a set piece, Wyke doing superbly to control a loose ball from a corner before turning effort of the bar from close range.
Sunderland created little thereafter, with the two best chances falling to the hosts as they spurned promising openings at set pieces.
Sunderland XI: Burge; Sanderson, Wright, Flanagan, McLaughlin; Leadbitter, Scowen, Power; Diamond, McGeady (O’Brien, 79), Wyke (Graham, 88)
Subs: Matthews, Willis, Embleton
Northampton Town XI: Mitchell; Jones, Bolger, Sheehan (Horsfall, 61) ; Hoskins, McWilliams, Sowerby, Adams (Harriman, 90); Watson, Ashley-Seal, Rose (Smith, 74)
Subs: Arnold, Holmes, Missilou, Marshall
Bookings: Wyke, 12 Watson, 40 Scowen, 43 Maguire, 73