Sunderland look set for League One play-offs after falling just short of crucial Portsmouth winner

Sunderland's automatic promotion hopes were dashed on Saturday afternoon
Sunderland's automatic promotion hopes were dashed on Saturday afternoon
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Sunderland look set for the League One play-offs after a frustrating draw with Portsmouth.

The Black Cats had the better of the game and drew a number of fine saves from Craig MacGillivray, but couldn't find the crucial winner.

They can still level Barnsley and Luton Town's points tally by winning their last two games, but it will require an enormous swing in goal difference.

Daniel Stendel's side currently have a seven-goal advantage, Luton Town nine.

The home side had thrown everything in search of a stunning late winner but with Pompey seemingly settling for a point that kept their slender hopes alive, they were forced to settle for a point.

The two sides had proved to be evenly matched over the season so far and it was little suprise that the game begun in that manner.

Kenny Jackett had made a big call up front with Oli Hawkins, so dangerous in the previous two games, on the bench as former Black Cat James Vaughan was given the nod.

Their early gameplan was to go direct but Sunderland, with Tom Flanagan reinstalled to the defence, were comfortable enough in dealing with that challenge.

They almost had the lead six minutes in after a moment of inspiration from Lewis Morgan, the winger hitting an acrobatic volley, taken with his back to goal, off the woodwork.

The cross was from Aiden McGeady, playing through a broken bone in his foot but typically influential.

That early pressure paid off just minutes later when the lively Morgan drew a foul from Nathan Thompson. Max Power floated the free kick to the back post where Flanagan stooped to head into the bottom corner.

Portsmouth began to assert themselves in the game, winning more second balls and pressing far more effectively.

Jon McLaughlin had to be alert when a long-range effort from Ben Close was deflected, the Scot getting down to palm wide.

When the equaliser came there was an air of controversy, a Ronan Curtis cross potentially dropping out of play on the right flank. But played was waved on as Brett Pitman's volleyed cross dropped into a dangerous area, Jamal Lowe eventually turning home the loose ball.

Referee Craig Pawson was forced to delay the restart after a flare was discharged during the celebrations in the away end, landing in the North Stand.

Northurmbria Police later confirmed that an arrest had been made.

The delay lasted several minutes, Pompey continuing to threaten after the restart.

They had the ball in the net again from a corner but Pawson disallowed it, blowing for a foul on McLaughlin by Matt Clarke.

Sunderland regained their composure and went into the break much the better of the two sides, twice going close to a vital lead.

McGeady had again escaped the attentions of Thompson to get clear on the left and made a clever reverse pass to the feet of George Honeyman. The Black Cats captain stood up a cross to the back post where the unmarked Lee Cattermole volleyed over the bar.

The home side went even closer on the brink of the break, Cattermole starting a fine move with an excellent switch of play. Morgan went past left-back Lee Brown with his first touch and crossed the back post with his second, Craig MacGillivray making a fine save with his boot to deny Charlie Wyke.

With Barnsley turning around an early deficit against Blackpool, the second half began at a much lower tempo with a more palpable tension around the Stadium of Light.

There was little goalmouth action, Morgan drawing an early save from MacGillivray with a long -range effort but neither side getting into particularly dangerous territory.

The need for three points was reflected in early subs from both managers, Wembley supersubs Oli Hawkins and Gareth Evans replacing Ronan Curtis and the ineffectual James Vaughan.

Sunderland withdrew George Honeyman, throwing on Chris Maguire to the delight of the home support.

The attacking midfielder took a while to get into the game but played his part in a fine move twelve minutes from time, collecting a pass from Oviedo and teeing up Max Power, who fired at goal and drew another smart stop from MacGillivray.

The away side were showing little attacking intent as the home side pushed hard for a winner, and were unlucky to see Will Grigg's volley hit the post after a good cross from Aiden McGeady.

Portsmouth seemed to settle for a point but Sunderland came close late on after a clever flick from Will Grigg, but Chris Maguire just delayed his shot too long and the away side were able to clear with seconds remaining.

That was the last action of an ultimately frustrating afternoon,

Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; O'Nien (Matthews, 90), Flanagan, Ozturk, Oviedo; Power, Cattermole, Honeyman (Maguire, 60); Morgan (Grigg, 69), McGeady, Wyke

Subs: Ruiter, Matthews, Gooch, Leadbitter, Dunne

Portsmouth XI: MacGillivray; Thompson, Clarke, Burgess, Brown; Naylor, Close; Lowe, Pitman, Curtis (Evans, 65); Vaughan (Hawkins, 57)

Subs: Bass, Haunstrup, Walkes, Morris, Solomon-Otabor

Bookings: McGeady, 6 Honeyman, 12 Thompson, 15 Close, 45 Pitman, 71 Power, 87

Attendance: 41,129