Sunderland's flatlining season takes another turn for the worse with defeat to Burton Albion
Sunderland’s season took yet another turn for the worse after Burton Albion battled back from an early goal to take three points from the Stadium of Light.
Goals from Ryan Edwards and Liam Boyce sent their Black Cats to their first home defeat of the season and left them three points adrift of the play-off spots.
It leaves new manager Phil Parkinson with just two wins from his first eleven games, six of those played in the League.
A dire second half meant the final whistle drew a chorus of boos from an irate crowd, the automatic promotion spots drifting further into the distance.
There were even chants of ‘sacked in the morning’ as Parkinson watched his side labour in the closing stages.
Sunderland came into the contest desperate to take advantage of the opportunity to climb up the League One table, the return of Conor McLaughlin allowing Parkinson to field a more energetic frontline featuring Duncan Watmore and Luke O’Nien.
The Black Cats boss kept faith with Will Grigg after Benji Kimpioka’s late equaliser against Coventry City, the contest beginning with neither side able to really get a foothold and build a sustained spell of possession.
It was the away side arguably looking more comfortable on the ball, and they had the first real effort when Lucas Akins ran towards the box and saw his effort deflected just wide of the far post.
Sunderland were creating little, their gameplan clearly to try and spring Duncan Watmore clear with early, direct passes over the top of the defence.
They were given a big platform in the game just before the 20-minute mark, a loose ball dropping in the box. O’Nien was the quickest to react, drawing the foul from John Joe O’Toole. Aiden McGeady sent Kieran O’Hara the wrong way with an emphatic penalty.
The lead lasted less than a minute, however, Sunderland switching off from the restart and allowign left-back Kieran Wallace to break into the box unopposed. His effort was superbly saved by Lee Burge, but he palmed it straight into the box of Ryan Edwards, the midfielder stooping to head home into an empty net.
From there the game began to open up a touch, the lively Watmrore carrying Sunderland’s main threat. He drew a superb stop from O’Hara after racing onto Grigg’s flick-on, cutting inside and firing towards goal on his weaker left foot.
Burton continued to pose a threat of their own and Burge was called into action again when Liam Boyce broke free too easily in the penalty ara, his effort firm but at a good height for the Black Cats keeper to palm away.
A frenetic period looked like it would yield a third goal, Sunderland drawing another good stop from O’Hara when Denver Hume drove infield in trademark fashion, O’Nien gathering the pass and going close with an opportunistic early effort from the edge of the area.
It was a half that had lacked tempo, and the Black Cats began the second with a conscious effort to try and retain possession in a way they had failed to do in the opening period.
Both sides traded efforts from the edge of the area, Akins firing wide before McLaughin’s fierce drive from the edge of the area flashed over the crossbar.
The away side appeared to be tiring but with just under 25 minutes left in the game, took a vital lead.
They were able to break through the centre of the pitch far too easily, Fraser making a good decision to delay the pas instead of trying to find Akins through the middle of the box. Instead, he drove in and cut a superb low cross towards the back post, where Boyce was unmarked and simply couldn’t miss.
Parkinson’s side were immensely fortunate it didn’t soon become three, Hume allowing Boyce to gather a long ball and burst past him within minutes. He crossed into the six-yard box but Akins could only turn wide as he slid in to meet the ball.
The Black Cats boss threw on Benji Kimpioka in search of inspiration but it was Nigel Clough’s side who continued to offer all the attacking threat.
They were within inches of a third when they again broke at pace, Edwards and Boyce playing an excellent one-two that saw the ball slid to the edge of the area. Fraser met it with a sweet strike that flew past Burge but rattled the crossbar.
Burton began to sit back as the game reached its conclusion but Sunderland were unable to create any openings as they fell to defeat.
Sunderland XI: Burge; McLaughlin (Maguire, 71), Willis, Lynch, Hume; Power, Leadbitter (Kimpioka, 79); Watmore, O’Nien, McGeady; Grigg
Subs: McLaughlin, Ozturk, Flanagan, De Bock, Sammut
Burton Albion XI: O’Hara; O’Toole, Buxton, Nartey (Daniel, 71), Wallace; Quinn, Fraser, Edwards; Akins, Sarkic (Templeton, 65), Boyce (Brayford, 90)
Subs: Sbarra, Anderson, Beardsley, Garratt
Bookings: Power, 28 Quinn, 50 Sarkic, 55 Daniel, 85