Sunderland seal play-off spot and end winless run after late drama at Plymouth Argyle
A Chris Maguire penalty secured Sunderland’s play-off spot and ended a seven-game winless run.
Most encouragingly for Lee Johnson, they delivered a much-improved display that could and should have seen all three points secured far earlier.
Without Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady they still created a number of chances, with Ross Stewart scoring and producing an excellent display.
Soft defending allowed the hosts back into it, but a red card swiftly followed and the introduction of Maguire helped turn the screw.
It had been on overly convincing start from Sunderland summed up best by the ferocious reaction of Johnson and Jamie McAllister in the dugout as the visitors again ceded possession just moments before they broke the game open.
Aside from one or two Jordan Jones shots the hosts created the better early chances, Ryan Hardie in particular failing to capitalise on one promising position inside the box.
Johnson’s side looked sluggish when Gooch picked up the ball deep inside his own half, but he sliced open a woeful Plymouth defensive line to spring Stewart clear 22 minutes in.
Plymouth were adamant the Scot was onside, but he looked as if he could have been inside his own half when the ball was played and from there he did the rest convincingly, firing through the goalkeeper to give his side the lead.
It will have been to Sunderland’s frustration that they did not extend their lead before. Plymouth did threaten occassionally with Ennis hacking widly from a dangerous position, but it was the visitors who pressed with vigour and caused problems.
Jones fired over from close range after a good flick on from Stewart, while Gooch drew an excellent save from Cooper.
In his preferred position, Gooch was a livewire throughout.
Even when the hosts drew a smart stop from Burge through Mayor just before the interval, they broke with speed through Jack Diamond. The winger carried it all the way from his box to Plymouth’s, Gooch going with inches of finding the far corner.
At the start of the second Sunderland took control, driving Plymouth back through their wingers.
Substitute Carl Winchester twice went close as he picked up loose balls, the home side struggling to cope with the visitors.
Sunderland couldn’t capitalise, and it was to their frustration that they ceded an equaliser to Plymouth’s first real spell of pressure. It was soft defending, the visitors failing to stop a cross from the right and allowing Edwards to head home at the back post.
Opoku shown red just moments later, Stewart doing well to draw a foul on the edge of the area. Sensing an opportunity Johnson introduced Maguire, who promptly struck the bar from the free kick.
Sunderland would strike the woodwork again, Stewart’s good header inches away before Cooper saved well from Maguire.
The pressure would eventually tell, though it was another controversial goal.
Gooch, now operating on the right, did superbly to burst past his marker and draw a foul. The referee initially awarded a free kick, which replays suggested was the correct decision, but changed his mind and ruled that the foul had occurred inside the box.
Maguire stepped up and fired into the top corner. Hume added a third in stoppage time, an easy finish after Gooch again burst clear of his marker.