How two significant moments defined a crucial night and win for Lee Johnson's Sunderland

The most memorable moments of this evening came at half-time.

Tuesday, 23rd February 2021, 8:53 pm

Speaking to supporters on the club’s revamped streaming operation, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus criticised the lack of long-term planning and vision that has underpinned Sunderland’s demise.

Music to the ears of expectant and hopeful fans.

In the dressing room, Sunderland took stock of a decent but frustrating first half and came out to seize their chance.

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Aiden O'Brien celebrates his goal at the Stadium of Light

A switch in fortmation brought goals from Aiden O’Brien and Max Power; another difficult test passed for Lee Johnson and his side.

This is the first time Sunderland have beaten Fleetwood since dropping into League One and that more than anything tells you why it feels like momentum is building.

The form coming into the game had been poor but with signs of a corner turned under Simon Grayson, and in the early stages it was noticeable that amid blustery conditions, their gameplan was to go direct and to go early.

Sunderland initially struggled to get out of their own half, and were fortunate that Harvey Saunders was just unable to get on the end of a clever, first-time cross from strike partner Kyle Vassell in the opening ten minutes.

Fleetwood were energetic in their pressing and after a challenging week, the Black Cats looked just short of their best tempo.

They began to improve as Grayson’s side dropped a little deeper, with McGeady and Power seeing efforts fly just wide as the pressure finally began to build.

With the defence settling, Sunderland were beginning to dominate both possession and territory but it was a half in which they just lacked the composure required to open up a stubborn and well organised opposition defence.

McGeady came closest when he broke into the box just before the break, his dangerous effort palmed clear by Cairns.

In truth that was the only meaningful save Cairns had to make in the half, a reflection of how the Black Cats had been unable to turn possession into chances.

Johnson had cut a frustrated figure in the dugout, and wasted little time in making changes.

Gooch was pushed up in support of Wyke for the second half, Sunderland dropping back into a four-man defence. The change almost yielded a result before the hour mark, Cairns doing well to block an effort from Gooch as he burst into the box.

The switch had changed the game, pulling Fleetwood defenders out of position and improving the tempo of Sunderland’s play around the box.

The pressure told just after the hour mark when McGeady beat his marker on the outside, standing up an excellent cross that O’Brien did superbly to steer past Cairns with a first-time header.

Fleetwood’s response was good, the game far more open than Sunderland would have liked as they tried to protect their lead.

Johnson was sufficiently concerned to reinforce his midfield and though his side looked uncertain and their makeshift defence looked under pressure, the crucial moment came ten minutes from the end.

Substitute Maguire stood up a fine corner to the back post, where an unmarked Power stooped to power a header through Cairns.

Sunderland XI: Burge; McLaughlin, Sanderson, O’Nien; Gooch (Winchester, 71), Power, Leadbitter, McFadzean; O’Brien (Maguire, 78), McGeady (Jones, 67); Wyke

Subs: Matthews, Younger, Diamond, Maguire, Vokins

Fleetwood Town XI: Cairns; Hill, Connolly, Holgate (Morris, S, 69); Donacien, Duffy (Biggings, 58), Rossiter, Batty (Camps, 78), Andrew; Vassell, Saunders (Burns, 58)

Subs: Coleman, Morris, Rydel

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