Sunderland top group but suffer Papa John's Trophy penalty defeat against Bradford City at Stadium of Light
Sunderland’s poor form continued with a penalty shootout defeat in their final Papa John’s Trophy group game.
A 1-1 draw in normal time did secure top spot and a home draw in the next round, but the Black Cats were unconvincing once again in a poor game.
They had trailed at the break through Theo Robinson’s goal, with Nathan Broadhead’s excellent finish rescuing a point early in the second half.
Sensing the need to build rhythm and match fitness in his players before a ten-day break, and perhaps provoked by dire recent form and the need for a result, Lee Johnson named by some distance his strongest side of the competition so far.
The initial result was encouraging, if not emphatic.
Sunderland moved the ball around at a decent tempo, Elliot Embleton influential and drawing the first save when his deflected effort was gathered by Hornsby.
Bradford were direct and initially ineffective, but the Black Cats began to labour in what was an even and fairly uninspiring contest.
Vernam had the visitors first effort, a header comfortably saved by Hoffmann. They had the best effort of the opening half an hour when a corner broke to Kelleher on the edge of the box, his effort firm but relatively easily saved.
Quality in the final third was proving elusive for both sides, but Bradford took the lead when recycling another poor corner. Staunton gathered possession on the left and found it far too easy to drive to the byline, his low cross turned into the roof of the net impressively by Robinson at close range.
The Black Cats had dominated possession but had little to show for it.
Falling behind did at least provoke a response, Dajaku going close when he spun upon gathering a Luke O’Nien through ball, his effort ultimately too close to Hornsby.
Richardson had a half-chance at the back post moments later, but could only turn Gooch’s dangerous cross wide.
Sunderland took that momentum into the second half, a noticeable lift in their tempo.They were level within ten minutes, an excellent pass over the top from Embleton gathered well by Broadhead on his first touch, and superbly fired into the far corner on his second.
Though their final ball just eluded the target, the Black Cats were dominant and pushing hard for a second as Bradford struggled to build any momentum.
Johnson’s side should have moved into the lead twenty from the end, a dreadful attempt to cut out a long ball releasing Dajaku through on goal. His effort was again too close to Hornsby and though it looked as if substitute Harris had an open goal, his header was weak and allowed Bradford to recover and clear.
Though Sunderland continued to control possession, Bradford weathered the storm and began to create some opportunities of their own on the break.
They had a big chance to win just minutes from the end, Watt firing over at the back post after an excellent 50-50 challenge from Winchester broke kindly for the visitors.
Four minutes of stoppage time brought two major openings, with Pritchard crashing a free kick off the bar before Hoffmann saved superbly at the other end.
Though the group positions were already set, the two sides were forced to play a penalty shootout for the bonus point.
Alex Pritchard and Lynden Gooch missed with their efforts for the hosts, allowing Gareth Evans to seal the win for Bradford.