Sunderland's momentum continues to build with another key win and rivals faltering

Another afternoon in which the momentum of this promotion race shifted every slightly in Sunderland’s favour.

Saturday, 6th March 2021, 4:57 pm

This week had always been about getting the job done, with seismic clashes against teams in the top ten on the immediate horizon.

Another two goals and a clean sheet represented exactly that.

Charlie Wyke with another superb front-post header; Dion Sanderson with a first goal that was enthustiastically celebrated by supporters fast falling for this superb loan signing.

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Dion Sanderson celebrates his goal for Sunderland
Dion Sanderson celebrates his goal for Sunderland

With Portsmouth and Peterborough falling to defeat, it was a fine afternoon for the Black Cats even if there were a number of scares through the game.

The scoreline and Rochdale’s lowly position may give this the look of a routine victory but in the first half especially, it was anything but.

True enough, it looked in the early minutes as if the visitors would buckle.

Aiden McGeady drew a yellow card as began to torment Ryan (brother of Conor) McLaughlin and when he stood a free kick up to the back post, Sanderson had been left entirely unmarked to score his first Black Cats goal.

When McGeady again coasted past McLaughlin and fizzed a low cross into a dangerous area, the writing looked to be on the wall.

Brian Barry-Murphy’s side play with a quality (in possession at least) that belies their position in the table and through an impressive period, they ought to have scored at least once.

It took a stunning late block from Luke O’Nien to deny Kwadwo Baah as gathered a precise long ball into the box, while Jimmy Keohane had his head in his hands when he blazed over from inside the six-yard box just past the half-hour mark.

Sunderland’s frustration was both visible and audible, but the story of the half was that they were ruthless and their opponents wasteful.

The second came when Jordan Jones spun a wonderful cross to the front post, where Wyke was there to do what he is increasingly making his trademark.

Even then Rochdale kept coming, denied before the break only by a superb clearing header from Ollie Younger.

Playing in an unfamilair right-back role, he had looked uncertain off the ball at times but defensively he was impressively robust.

Rochdale continued to cause issues even as Sunderland controlled possession through the early stages of the second half; the hosts grateful to Burge as he denied Humphrys when his defence has switched off entirely from a set piece.

Some early substitutions helped the Black Cats gain a surer footing, with Josh Scowen in particular disrupting the Rochdale midfield with some excellent pressing and energy.

Sunderland looked a threat without drawing any real saves from Bazunu in the Rochdale goal, the three points looking increasingly secure as the visitors began to lose some of the enterprise in their play.

There may have been some slight frustration in the closing minutes for Johnson, as the Black Cats failed to make the most of a number of counter-attacking opportunities.

As on Tuesday, they were unable to capitalise on some good pressing and ball recoveries, just overhitting the final pass when Rochdale were vulnerable.

The visitors, though, never threatened in the closing stages as Sunderland secured what was ultimately a deserved and comfortable win.

Sunderland XI: Burge; Younger (Maguire, 51), Sanderson, O’Nien, McFadzean; Jones (Diamond, 77), Winchester (Scowen, 51), Power, McGeady (Neil, 90); O’Brien, Wyke

Subs: Matthews, Vokins, Hawkes

Rochdale XI: Bazunu; Osho (Newby, 67), McShane, O’Connell, Keohane; McLaughlin (Done, 87), Shaughnessy, Morley, Baah; Humphrys, Grant

Subs: Lynch, McNulty, Roberts, Done, Hopper, Odoh

Bookings: McLaughlin, 5 McFadzean, 14 Jones, 45 Baah, 57 Newby, 90

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