A tricky start, an injury concern and a vital, nerveless winner: How Sunderland's crucial League One win played out

Sunderland snatched three vital points from their League One clash with Peterborough United after a superb late penalty from Grant Leadbitter.
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The club captain’s nerveless effort was his first goal from the Black Cats since Match 2009, and helped strengthen a very solid start to the season for the Black Cats.

Peterborough had caused problems with their impressive front line, but the Black Cats rode out an early storm and drew some fine stops themselves in the early stages of the second half.

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They had to withstand some late pressure after Leadbitter’s goal, but have now kept consecutive clean sheets against two of the division’s highly-fancied teams.

Grant Leadbitter gives Sunderland a priceless lead at the Stadium of LightGrant Leadbitter gives Sunderland a priceless lead at the Stadium of Light
Grant Leadbitter gives Sunderland a priceless lead at the Stadium of Light

With Max Power unsurprisingly not risked after suffering a hamstring injury last time out, Josh Scowen had been handed a long-awaited chance to impress from the start.

Lynden Gooch was also given his first league start after that glorious solo effort from the bench at the Kassam Stadium, though Charlie Wyke’s selection was perhaps slightly more surprising than those two calls.

Parkinson had hinted at another change in the build up to the contest, admitting that he expects to rotate his front line far more this season, feeling he is now able to tailor his team to different opposition.

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In truth, all three found themselves struggling, like the rest of the Black Cats XI, as a lively Peterborough side made an enterprising start to the contest.

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They ought to have been ahead just five minutes in, Jonson Clarke-Harris bringing a long ball down on his chest superbly. He quickly teed up Siriki Dembele, whose long-range effort was unconvincingly palmed into a dangerous area by Lee Burge. Clarke-Harris was first to the loose ball but his effort was poor, rolling wide of the far post.

The Black Cats, to their credit, broke quickly down the other end.

A good low cross from Denver Hume at the byline fell to Chris Maguire, who has so often fired those balls into the back of the net. This time his effort wasn’t quite powerful enough, blocked and cleared as Wyke tried to intervene.

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Peterborough, though, looked by far the most incisive of the two teams.

Few teams at this level have the nerve or quality to play out through Sunderland’s press at the Stadium of Light, but Darren Ferguson’s did so at will and Dembele was finding space with regularity.

He drew a free kick right on the edge of the area shortly after, Clarke-Harris seeing his effort saved well by Burge.

Dembele was again in the thick of the action as he pulled into space on the left, freeing wing-back Dan Butler with a clever pass.

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Butler played the cross early and Sammie Szmodics took the effort first time, drawing another comfortable stop from Burge.

Sunderland’s threat was coming almost exclusively from Hume on the left flank, and he almost produced an assist when an excellent cross was headed wide by Luke O’Nien in the centre of the box.

A lively contest continued as Peterborough again enjoyed a quick break, this time down the right flank as Ryan Broom sent in a low cross from the right. Bailey Wright couldn’t intervene, but the ball was just too heavy for Clarke-Harris who himself was unable to connect.

Midway through the first half, that was the high point of the away side’s early pressure as Sunderland began to get a foothold, controlling possession for longer periods and pushing higher up the pitch.

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Peterborough were beginning to play some slack passes, Dembele less influential as he was forced to play closer to his own goal.

The momentum of the game was disrupted by an injury to Maguire, who went down clutching his hamstring near the centre circle. The attacking midfielder held a discussion with Parkinson as to whether he would continue, but the Black Cats boss decided against the risk and brought on Aiden O’Brien.

Just as they had done at the Kassam Stadium, Sunderland stepped through the gears and took complete control of the game in the opening exchanges of the second half, drawing a string of fine saves from Christy Pym.

Wyke was the first to go close, gathering a good pass from Gooch and firing at goal from a narrow angle. Pym was alive to the threat and made a good block with his legs, before then making a stunning top high to his right as Scowen burst into the box and took aim shortly after.

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Peterborough were on the ropes, but almost snatched a goal on the break when Gooch carelessly lost possession near his own box. Taylor took the shot early, forcing a good stop from Burge to his left.

That seemed to settle their nerves, and they rattled the woodwork with half an hour to play when Dembele forced another foul near the box. This time it was Szmodics who stepped up, firing his effort over the crossbar.

The game looked evenly poised as it entered the final ten minutes, and the crucial moment came as Hume drove in from the left.

The talented wing-back went down under the challenge of Taylor as he went into the box, Peterborough irate as the referee pointed to the spot.

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Leadbitter stood up and took a nerveless penalty; Pym guessing the right but left with no chance of stopping his effort as it flew into the right-hand corner.

Peterborough pushed for a late equaliser, Leadbitter making another crucial intervention as he hacked a header from Clarke-Harris off the line.

There was a late scare with just seconds of the five minutes stoppage time to play, Reed unfurling a ferocious half-volley from the edge of the area that took a deflection and just flew wide of Burge’s post.

Sunderland cleared the corner and took three vital points from the contest.

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Sunderland XI: Burge; Willis, Wright, Flanagan; O’Nien, Leadbitter, Scowen, Hume; Gooch (McLaughlin, 90), Maguire (O’Brien, 38), Wyke (Graham, 70)

Subs: Matthews, Xhemajli, Diamond, Grigg

Peterborough United XI: Pym; Thompson, Beevers, Kent, Butler; Taylor, Reed, Broom (Ward, 70), Szmodics (Jones, 85) ; Dembele, Clarke-Harris

Subs: Gyollai, Eisa, Brown, Hamilton, Mason

Bookings: Scowen, 6 O’Brien, 62 Gooch, 83

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