Sunderland 1 Bolton Wanderers 0: This is how Cats survived a tough second half
Carl Winchester’s early goal gave the Black Cats a valuable lead and though they missed some good openings themselves, much of the second half was spent with the visitors testing the home defence.
After conceding late last weekend Sunderland were this time able to see the game out, surviving seven minutes of added time to earn three crucial points.
Both managers had served notice that this would be an open game, and that proved to be the case even if the contest took a while to get going.
Sunderland had started brightly, pressing with real aggression and testing a Bolton backline trying to play out from the back.
With Lynden Gooch absent due to injury, Alex Pritchard came into the side and there was a noticeable fluidity to the front four as they searched for an opening. They looked the more likely, but an injury to Bolton goalkeeper Joel Dixon forced a long delay and allowed the visitors some time to settle.
The game took some time to get back to its initial speed, but a superb opening half was sparked into life by an excellent Sunderland move.
Dennis Cirkin showed great intent to make an overlapping run, and was found by an excellent through ball from a central position. His low cross was good and though initially it looked to have evaded all parties in the box, Winchester was there at the back post to thump his effort into the roof of the net.
If it looked as if that could be the moment that would allow Johnson’s side to kick on and take control, it proved to be anything but.
Johnson had been brave in his approach, leaving his full backs high up the pitch and encouraging his side to press relentlessly.
It forced openings, but also left a good side side space on the counter.
Bolton served notice of their threat when Eoin Doyle fired wide at the near post following a good cross from the right, and Thorben Hoffmann had to be at his best moments later to preserve the lead.
Oladapo Afolayan had been quiet until now, and his tame effort looked to be offering little threat until a late touch from the returning Flanagan caused the German a problem. He did well to make the stop, and then responded superbly to quickly haul himself up to make the block from the follow up.
The Black Cats continued to try and press with intent, Pritchard twice finding himself in decent space on the edge of the box before being unable to test to Dixon with his efforts.
Bolton’s threat was persistent, a well-worked short corner presenting an opportunity for Sarcevic as he broke across the front of the post. The ball bounced nicely for him, but his effort was sliced and well over the bar.
Johnson’s side were wobbling a touch, though they responded strongly will a good spell before the break that almost yielded a second.
Good combination play from Neil and Embleton released Stewart in the box, but on his weaker foot the effort was tame and gathered easily enough from Dixon.
Neil was presented with an opportunity himself when Cirkin did outstandingly well, chasing a seemingly lost cause and keeping the ball alive by the byline. A good low cross met Neil, but his effort was blocked superbly.
Bolton started the second half in control of possession, but found themselves opened up by a stunning Sunderland counter two minutes later.
McGeady made a good run into the channel and from four yards out Pritchard looked certain to score, but Dixon did superbly to make the block with his trailing leg.
It was a golden opportunity for the hosts, with Bolton still seeing plenty of the ball and causing problems as a relentless game headed towards the hour mark.
Ian Evatt’s side created their best chance yet when Winchester did well to track back and challenge Alofoyan. He was unfortunate that the loose ball found Sheehan, whose excellent crossed was headed towards goal by Doyle. Hoffmann did well, getting up to claw the ball over the bar.
Johnson was sufficiently concerned, making a triple substitution. One of those was enforced, the excellent Cirkin forced off after a head injury.
An open game continued to swing from end to end, Bolton breaking dangerously after a promising Sunderland attack. Afolayan’s cross deflected just wide of the far post, and moments later Doyle headed wide when the goal appeared to be gaping.
An even greater opportunity presented itself shortly afterwards, Johnston making a good run to the back post but somehow volleying wide of the far post.
Sunderland finally began to get out of their own half, Winchester and Stewart seeing efforts blocked as an excellent contest continued.
Bolton pressed for an equaliser, going close when substitute Huggins sliced his clearance under pressure. Eoin Doyle looked likely to score, but a combination of Doyle and Hoffmann did well to shut the opening down.
Seven minutes of stoppage time raised the pressure inside the Stadium of Light, but to their credit it was a period Sunderland managed well as they secured the points.
Sunderland XI: Hoffmann; Winchester, Flanagan, Doyle (Wright, 87), Cirkin (Huggins, 65); Neil, O’Nien; Embleton (Evans, 65), Pritchard (Dajaku, 65), McGeady; Stewart
Subs: Burge, Evans, Alves, Broadhead
Bolton Wanderers XI: Dixon; Jones, Santos, Johnston, Gordon (John, 71); Williams, Sheehan (Lee, 85); Isgrove (Kachunga, 60), Sarcevic, Afolayan; Doyle
Subs: Gilks, Delfouneso, Thomason, Baptiste
Bookings: Doyle (E), 41 O’Nien, 45 Gordon, 68 Santos, 90