Sunderland's crisis deepens as Phil Parkinson's surprise selection ends in another defeat at Gillingham
Sunderland fell to yet another League One defeat after Gillingham snatched a winner in the last minute of a controversial game.
The Black Cats thought they had taken a late lead when substitute Charlie Wyke headed home at the far post, but the goal was ruled out and allowed the home side to deal a brutal late blow.
Gillingham had cause for complaint with the referee themselves, Brandon Hanlan controversially seeing a goal not given when he appeared to have headed a cross over the line.
It leaves Phil Parkinson under immense pressure, now with just two wins in 12 games a d having seen his shock team selection backfire.
Duncan Watmore, Aiden McGeady, Denver Hume and Joel Lynch were all dropped to the bench but for the most, his side, playing in a back five, created little.
Both sides made their intentions clear in the early stages, the ball spending most of the game in the air.
Parkinson looked to have picked his side to try and bolster his defensive unit, Gillingham quickly playing the ball into the strike partnership of Brandon Hanlan and Mikael Mandron.
At every set piece the ball was launched into the box, the Black Cats forced to defend a number of long throws into their box.
Initially they managed it well, but the home side increasingly began to take control of the game and missed a good early chance when Connor Ogilvie raced away from Conor McLaughlin down the left flank.
He cut the ball back inside to Mandron, who played a ball into the box for Hanlan. The lively striker struck his effort first time but blazed it well over the bar.
Their threat was growing, and they were adamant that they should have been ahead when moments later, Hanlan rose to meet a cross from the right flank. His header dropped close to the line off the underside of the bar, McLaughlin managing to gather and clear with the refereeing waving play on, Steve Evans and his side convinced the ball had dropped in.
Sunderland were living a charmed life, Hanlan crossing for Lee just moments before, the Hearts loanee just unable to connect at the near post.
At the other end they had offered little, Laurens De Bock’s tame effort their only shot on goal.
Gillingham continued to cause problems and should have gone into the break ahead, Mandron somehow turning a cross from Hanlan onto the bar from a matter of yards out and with the goal gaping.
Struggling to get into the game, Sunderland at least used the interval to gather themselves and they began the second half with a touch more intensity.
Jack Bonham was forced into a decent save when George Dobson’s persistence allowed him to break into the box, Luke O’Nien sending the loose ball goalward.
Parkinson shuffled his pack early, Charlie Wyke coming on for his first appearance since the 1-0 dfeat to Wycombe Wanderers.
He came close having been on the pitch barely a minute, turning away from Max Ehmer and lashing a shot just wide of the far post.
The game began to open up, and Sunderland were left fuming when they had a goal ruled out with just over ten minutes to play. After seeing an effort blocked by the Giillingham defence, Grigg stood a cross up to the back post where Charlie Wyke stopped to turn home.
The referee looked initially to have given the goal, but after consulting with his linesman, signalled for a Gillingham free kick.
Sunderland were enraged, assistant manager Steve Parkin shown a yellow card for his remonstrations.
It was the away side’s best spell of the game, even if Gillingham did possess a threat on the counter.
The game was finely poised heading into the final minutes, and the home side’s relentless set pieces finally paid off when Mandron did superbly to get hold of the ball with a number of defenders close to him.
The loose ball fell to Ogilvie, who fired a superb effort into the top corner to seal the three points.
Sunderland XI: Jon McLaughlin; Conor McLaughlin (Maguire, 90), Ozturk, Willis, Flanagan, De Bock; Leadbitter, Dobson, O’Nien; McNulty (Wyke, 61), Grigg
Subs: Burge, Lynch, Watmore, McGeady, Hume
Gillingham XI: Bonham; Fuller, Ehmer, Tucker, Ogilvie; Jones, Byrne (Marshall, 43), Lee, O’Connor; Mandron, Hanlan
Subs: Walsh, Hodson, Ndjioli, Charles-Cook, Cisse, Jakubiak
Bookings: Tucker, 65 Flanagan, 77 Ozturk, 90