Sunderland injury concerns and a moment of class from key duo: Six things learned from win over Bristol Rovers.
Sunderland beat Bristol Rovers 2-1 at the Stadium of Light to close the gap on leaders Portsmouth.
Here's what we learned from the victory.
Sunderland made hard work of it but victory over Bristol Rovers was hugely important.
With leaders Portsmouth dropping points again, Sunderland closed the gap to five points, with two games in hand.
It was vital Sunderland got back to winning ways quickly following the Walsall FA Cup defeat and while it took patience and persistence, Sunderland got the victory in the end. Momentum back with SAFC ahead of the busy festive period.
Sunderland overcome another late change to the teamsheet.
Jack Ross’ plans were again disrupted shortly before kick-off when Reece James withdrew from the starting line-up with an ankle injury.
Bryan Oviedo a very able deputy but it wasn’t ideal preparation and the Black Cats were sluggish in the opening period.
It was the second time in a matter of weeks Sunderland have had a late change, Chris Maguire withdrew from the team to face Walsall away following the warm-up.
Injuries to key trio a big concern for Sunderland.
Ross hopes James will be fit to face Portsmouth but he was less confident about Tom Flanagan’s chances following an injury picked up in training.
Hopeful but not certain he would return for the huge game at Pompey on Saturday.
A back spasm caused Jon McLaughlin’s early departure and he will be assessed. The trio have proved key players in recent weeks and Ross will be hoping to call upon all three on the
Victory over Bristol Rovers proved another welcome milestone in Duncan Watmore’s return.
His appearance from the bench was his first league appearance following a year out with a second ACL injury.
With a Checkatrade Trophy and FA Cup appearance under his belt, a League One appearance was a welcome sight.
And it was another encouraging display, with intelligent runs, he caused the Rovers defence problems. A constant menace.
Touch of class from Aiden McGeady and Josh Maja seals victory.
McGeady picked up another two assists in the win, his shot palmed away before Matthews nodded home the equaliser before the break.
And the experienced winger then picked out Maja with a pass through the eye of a needle. Maja doing what he does best, taking a touch before producing a clinical finish.
It was a moment of pure class. And it proved enough to win the game.
Lee Cattermole made a welcome return to action - and pops up with a cheeky backheel.
Cattermole, who had missed several games with a foot injury, was understandably rusty in the opening stages but grew into the game and finished it strongly.
He was involved in the equaliser, a brilliant team move with Lynden Gooch at the heart of it. A Cattermole backheel sparking the move which led to Matthews’ equaliser.
Cattermole’s influence on this side is huge and his return was a very welcome sight ahead of the festive season.