This is how it played out as Elliot Embleton scores stunning late winner for Sunderland
Sunderland produced another late show to give their play-off hopes an almight boost at the Kassam Stadium.
The Black Cats were second best for large parts of the contest against an Oxford United in desperate need of a win themselves, but an excellent finish from substitute Elliot Embleton with just over a minute of normal time to play keeps their play-off hopes firmly in their own hands with five games left.
Corry Evans had given his side a first-half lead but Elliott Moore’s equaliser was a fair reflection of the flow of the game.
The hosts did most of the running in the second half but Embleton’s late strike could prove to be a pivotal moment in the campaign.
Manchester United ‘tipped’ to sign £20m Newcastle United star and striker sold by Rafa Benitez
What Lynden Gooch told Dan Neil following midfielder's red card in Sunderland’s defeat at Sheffield United
Phil Smith's Sunderland player ratings: who impressed for Alex Neil's side despite Sheffield United defeat
Ex-Sunderland youngster completes Scotland switch and divulges what Alex Neil told him prior to release
Sunderland AFC news: Neil Warnock reveals talks to Luke O'Nien failed because of wages and agents fees.
Neil had predicted an open game in stark contrast to last week’s often laborious win over Gillingham, and that was borne out from the off as both teams went close to opening the scoring.
The first chance fell to the hosts, a well-struck effort from Sykes on the edge of the box clawed away from the top corner superbly by Anthony Patterson. Sunderland had been dealt a blow with the absence of Alex Pritchard, but Nathan Broadhead’s return to the starting XI was timely and he should have scored when Stewart was sprung through on goal, the Everton loanee meeting the cutback but finding himself unable to generate a connection that could beat the covering Luke McNally in front of the goal line.
That would be a theme of the half, Oxford vulnerable to the counter but Sunderland just not quite precise enough to exploit it.
The hosts created another dangerous opening which Sykes blazed well over the bar as he made an overlapping run from the right wing-back position. Moments later, the visitors were ahead. Jack Clarke did well to win the free kick as he drove infield from the left, but his initial effort from the set piece was poor and fired straight into the wall. Jay Matete’s effort was similarly poor as he met the rebound on the edge of the box, but Oxford couldn’t clear and Evans was there to turn goalward.
The Black Cats weren’t really able to build on their lead, too often guilty of inviting pressure by gifting the ball away in their own half. Though Patrick Roberts had a good chance to double their lead from a swift counter, it was the hosts threatening most severely to score next and only excellent challenges from Dennis Cirkin and Matete prevented them from doing so.
Lynden Gooch blazed wide at the other end following a promising break and within a couple of minutes it was level. Carl Winchester made a foul out on the left flank and when Bodin whipped an excellent ball towards the edge of the six-yard box, Elliot Moore was there to tower above his marker and head home.
Both Ciaron Brown and Sykes would spurn half-chances before the break, with Sunderland looking the side more in need of an opportunity to regroup.
There were still significant openings of the break against a threatening but defensively loose Oxford side, but a lack of precision meant Neil’s side were not taking advantage.
The Sunderland head coach reacted by replacing Roberts with Luke O’Nien at the break, but saw his side survive a dangerous attack when no Oxford player was able to meet a dangerous cross from Sykes cut across goal.
The visitors were still finding some moments of promise on the break, but their habit of coughing up possession in their own half was causing problems and they were fortunate that McNally could only shoot wide when he towards goal from deep.
It looked as if the hosts were going to take a valuable lead with just over twenty minutes to play when substitute Gavin Whyte put an excellent cross to the back post for Brown, but Patterson somehow managed to race across his line and claw the header away from goal.
With Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe Wanderers both sides were in need of a goal, and it continued to look like it would be the hosts who would get it as a free kick from Bodin clipped the crossbar on its way over.
Evans did force a comfortable save from Stevens after good play from O’Nien to keep a lose ball alive on the byline, but the visitors had been strangely lacking tempo and intensity for much of the half.
The introduction of Embleton changed the flow of the game, particularly as Neil’s earlier switch to a back four began to pay off.
It was an excellent move worked right across from the left flank, Matete playing in Stewart who showed excellent composure to tee up Embleton who fired back across goal to send the travelling support into delirium.
The drama was far from done there.
It should have been three when Stewart broke through on goal seconds late, but Stevens made the save and as six minutes stoppage time was awarded, Bodin was inches away fro scoring an equaliser on the edge of the box.
From there the visitors held on comfortably, late goals from Bolton Wanderers and Gillingham turning an excellent afternoon into a potentially crucial one.
Sunderland XI: Patterson; Winchester, Wright, Cirkin; Gooch, Evans, Matete, Clarke; Roberts (O’Nien, 45), Broadhead, Stewart
Subs: Hoffmann, Embleton, Neil, Batth, Hume, Doyle
Oxford United XI: Stevens; Long (Winnall, 90), Brown, Moore, McNally, Holland (Whyte, 61), Brannagan, Kane, Sykes, Bodin, Taylor
Subs: Eastwood, Williams, Forde, McGuane, Whyte, Seddon
Bookings: Matete, 72 Cirkin, 79