This is how it played out as Sunderland fall to first Championship defeat at Sheffield United
Sunderland were dealt a harsh lesson in the fine margins of the Championship as they fell to their first league defeat of the season at Bramall Lane.
The Black Cats had impressed against imposing opposition through the first half hour of the game, but saw the contest flip on its head in two chaotic minutes.
Dan Neil was shown a red card for a professional foul on James McAtee, with Anel Ahmedhodzic scoring a towering header from the corner that followed just moments later.
Even after Max Lowe made it two in the early stages of the second half, Alex Neil’s side showed real spirit to reduce the deficit and take the game deep through a Lynden Gooch chip.
The hosts continued to forge the best chances late on but there was much to admire about a spirited performance, one which will have left Neil’s group frustrated with that spell of naivety in the first half.
United had forged the first opening of the half when Alex Pritchard was caught on the ball from his own team’s throw-in, Rhian Brewster driving into the box but shooting high and wide.
Sunderland had otherwise looked bright against a team with serious promotion ambitions this season, one that Neil said would pose the biggest test of his players yet. They were pressing well and causing problems, Simms overhitting a pass to Stewart after excellent work from Neil to nick the ball close to the box.
Stewart was then inches away from connecting with Lynden Gooch’s low cross to the front post, the Black Cats the better of the two sides and limiting their opposition to very little.
Though Luke O’Nien had to make a brave block to deny Oli Norwood after a dangerous United move, Sunderland turned that into a rapid counter that ended with Stewart dragging an effort just wide of the near post, Foderingham scrambling across his goal and possibly beaten had it been on target.
Clear chances had been at a premium, but Neil would have been impressed with the tenacity and organisation of his side until that couple of minutes that changed everything. It was arguably the wrong decision to play the short pass into Neil, and when he dithered on the ball, Manchester City loanee McAtee pounced. Neil instinctively hauled him down and was shown the red. The free kick was just about cleared, but the corner to the back post was inch-perfect and the header from Ahmedhodzic emphatic.
Neil resisted the urge to immediately withdraw one of his strikers, and that did give his side an out ball as they managed to get through to half time without further damage. The task in avoiding defeat looked a challenging one all the same, and within a minute of the second half the contest was all but over.
The hosts built up play and Ahmedhodzic wasn’t tracked as be broke into the box. He squared the ball and from there Lowe couldn’t miss, comfortably beating Patterson.
For a spell it looked as if the visitors would be overrun, Sheffield United dominating the ball
Neil moved quickly, making a triple substitution that instantly turned the game on its head. Matete pounced on a slack pass and teed up Stewart, who played a first-time pass into the path of Gooch. Now playing further forward, he raced through on goal and beat Foderingham with a delightful chip.
For a spell Sunderland were on top and looking the most likely, though a Sander Berge effort deflected off the post underlined how the hosts were beginning to find their feet again as the game entered the final 20 minutes. Berge had become the game’s most influential player, Sunderland struggling to pick him up and he drifted into pockets of space around the area.
Neil’s side were able to ride that wave of pressure but forging openings of their own was understandably proving more challenging, and Patterson had to make a fine save to deny Norwood when the midfielder took aim from the edge of the area.
Sunderland managed to get in some promising areas during seven minutes of stoppage time, but it was the hosts who were creating the best chances. Patterson was forced into three excellent saves that underlined his promise as a team showing of real heart ultimately came to nothing.