Sunderland set for ANOTHER fixture in hectic schedule after Gillingham stalemate
Sunderland will have to travel to Gillingham for an FA Cup first round replay after a poor second-half display at the Stadium of Light.
An error from Jon McLaughlin allowed the away side to level after Aiden McGeady’s early opener.
Gillingham had chances to win the tie as the Black Cats failed to make their early dominance pay and left Phil Parkinson with much to ponder again, now with just two wins from seven games in charge.
Parkinson had rotated his side heavily in midweek but eager to establish a pattern of play and consistency of performance, a far more familiar looking side took charge from the early stages.
Gillingham were heavily reliant on long balls to front two Brandon Hanlan and former Black Cats youngster Mikael Mandron, with the home side dominating the ball right from the opening exchanges.
They took that early lead when Aiden McGeady cut inside from the left as the away defence failed to clear a cross from Conor McLaughlin, McGeady firing a low efffort through a crowd of bodies. Goalkeeper Jack Bonham saw it late but should arguably have done better, unable to stop the ball rolling past him into the bottom corner.
The away side almost responded instantly when McLaughlin tried to head a dangerous free kick clear from just inside his own box, the ball looping past the goalkeeper and dropping wide via the far post.
Sunderland were fortunate that when George Dobson, an energetic and effective presence throughout, made a rare error in possession and allowed the away side to break, Mandron just couldn’t gather a dangerous cutback from Hanlan.
Parkinson’s side were in control and moving the ball well, but were just unable to convert that possession into clear chances, a number of crosses flashing across the box without finding a red-and-white shirt.
The closest they came to turning extending their advantage was when Joel Lynch ran free of his marker at a corner, just failing to make a connection as he tried to flick the delivery from Chris Maguire goalward at the near post.
Maguire should have scored on the brink of half-time when the Black Cats built up play well, Laurens De Bock delivering a perfect cross into the centre of the box. Maguire had dropped into space but fired his volley wide of the post with Bonham rooted to the spot.
That profligacy was punished just moments into the second half when McLaughlin was adjudged to have brought down Hanlan on the edge of the area. Tom O’Connor teed up Hearts loanee Oliver Lee, whose thumping effort was straight at Jon McLaughlin. The Scot couldn’t gather and the watched on in agony as it dropped over the line.
Composed for the most part in the opening period, the Black Cats looked slack and the away side were visibly boosted by their equaliser.
Though they failed to force Jon McLaughlin into further action, they were pressing more aggressively and the home side were unable to establish any rhythm on the ball.
Parkinson withdrew Will Grigg and brought on Marc McNulty, the Reading loanee going close shortly after his introduction after a good one-two with Conor McLaughlin, his shot deflected over the bar as Max Ehmer dove in to block.
The away side should have taken the lead when the broke swiftly from a Sunderland corner moments later. Stuart O’Keefe played a good pass to release Lee in acres of space, the midfielder denied by a fine stop from McLaughlin when the better option may have been to slide in an overlapping team-mate.
The game suddenly began to swing from end-to-end, O’Nien inches away from turning a McNulty cross over the line when the substitute did well to wriggle free of his marker.
Gillingham broke again at speed and though McLaughlin was beaten, Lee’s deflected effort drifted inches wide.
Lee was a constant threat breaking forward and went close again with ten minutes to go when Hanlan showed impressive speed to get clear of Joel Lynch. His low cross from the byline just evaded his team-mate with neither side seemingly keen on the prospect of a replay and therefore pushing bodies forward in search of the winner.
Sunderland almost snatched it when McGeady had a rare opportunity to run into space, cutting in from the right and forcing a good low stop from Bonham, the two sides ultimately forced to settle for a return fixture.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; McLaughlin, Willis, Lynch, De Bock; Power, Dobson; Maguire (Watmore, 77), O’Nien, McGeady; Grigg (McNulty, 65)
Subs: Burge, McGeouch, Flanagan, Leadbitter, Kimpioka
Gillingham XI: Bonham; Fuller, Ehmer, Ogilvie, O’Connor; O’Keefe, Jones, Lee (Charles-Cook, 90), Byrne; Hanlan, Mandron
Subs: Walsh, Hodson, Ndjoli, Charles-Cook, Pringle, Jakubiak, Tucker
Bookings: Hanlan, 29 Willis, 41 O’Nien, 90