Sunderland's automatic promotion push gathers momentum with an outstanding display at Portsmouth
Sunderland produced their best performance of the Lee Johnson era to date as their automatic promotion hopes were ignited at Fratton Park.
The gap to the top two is now just two points and remarkably, goals from Charlie Wyke and Jordan Jones secured what is now an eight-point swing over Portsmouth since the black Cats last suffered a league defeat.
Johnson backed his side with an aggressive starting XI and was rewarded with a performance of total control.
Luke O’Nien and Dion Sanderson built the platform with dominant defensive display, while a breakthrough performance from Carl Winchester caught the eye in midfield.
While Portsmouth laboured the visiting side played with purpose and poise.
Momentum is building.
Portsmouth had come into the game in poor form and on the back of a remarkable, humbling 4-1 defeat at Northampton Town at the weekend.
Yet no one who has watched these two sides tussle in their various guises over the last three seasons would have expected anything other than a tight, tense encounter. So it proved.
Sunderland threatened early when Jones drove to the byline and whipped in a dangerous cross, but both sides had their moments in an even opening.
When the first goal came it was a turn of pace and intent from the visitors.
Winchester picked up the ball from just inside the Portsmouth half and immediately unfurled a tremendous switch of play. McGeady gathered the ball, took one touch to tee him himself up and drew a fine save from MacGillivray as his effort arrowed towards the top corner.
The home side had barely drawn breath when Jones whipped in a vicious corner to the front post, where Wyke had got free of Sean Raggett to thump home his free header.
Bouyed by their goal, Sunderland continued to look tidy in possession.
McGeady had Raggett in trouble again with a good cross from the right, but this time the centre-half was just able to clear his lines.
There was not a huge amount in the game and despite their ascendancy there were warning signs for Sunderland. John Marquis ought to have done better when he was sprung free by Williams, but on the half-hour mark he snatched as his chance and fired wide.
Sunderland were good value for their lead at the break, robust in defense and more purposeful in possession.
A response from Kenny Jackett’s side was to be expected and that made the control they enjoyed thereafter all the more impressive.
In the opening exchanges of the half they were comfortable without threatening, Johnson’s one frustration that they don’t spend more time in possession.
Portsmouth, though, looked laboured and one lapse was enough for Jones to pounce.
It came from a home throw-in, a square pass playing Raggett into trouble. The winger nipped into to seize possession, before unfurling a delightful chip over MacGillivray on his weaker foot.
A belated response from the hosts arrived, Sunderland perhaps inviting pressure as they dropped into a back three.
Their adjustment was swift, and they finished the game looking the most likely to score next as they broke with intent.
Lee Burge ended the game barely tested as Sunderland secured a deserved and most impressive win.