On Saturday, I made my fourth trip to Sunderland, for their League One game, against Luton Town, in a top of the table clash. Saturday was a strange one for me though, as when I have previsouly visited the Tyne and Wear side, it was against Premier League teams such as Manchester City, Liverpool and Burnley. I have many good memories at the Stadium of Light, where i met my managerial idol, Pep Guardiola and also one of the best players on the planet, Kevin De Bruyne.
Sunderland were rightly favourites for the weekends game as Luton lost their manager midweek, with Nathan Jones moving on to bigger and better things at Stoke City. Jones had Town playing wonderful and beautiful football, so it was no surprise to see Stoke come calling for his services after the sacking of Gary Rowatt. The London side have not lost a league game since October,where they lost to Barnsley. The Black Cats have also been impressive this season under Jack Ross, having not lost a home game all season and currently sitting third in the League One table.
Sunderland made a handful of changes from their easy 4-0 victory over Newcastle U23’s in the Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday night. Five to be precise. John McLaughlin replaced Robbin Ruiter in goals. Alim Ozturk was replaced by Jack Baldwin while Bali Mumba, Jerome Sinclair and Duncan Watmore dropped out and in game Chris Maguire, Aidan McGeady and Lyden Gooch.
Luton Town legend, Mick Halford took over as caretaker manager for Saturdays game and he made one change from their draw at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup last weekend. Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu started in-place of Luke Berry, who dropped to the bench. There was also a place on the bench for new signing, George Thorne, who has signed for the Hatters on-loan from Derby County.
The game got underway at The Stadium Of Light and it was the away side who started the much better side, with The Lads under the cosh. The first chance came on the eighth minute, when a free-kick from James Justin beat everyone, and was cleared by McLaughlin’s legs. The rebound fell to Andrew Shinnie, who’s curling effort from the edge of the box was tipped around the post for a corner. After soaking up all the pressure, the home side took the lead, with their first real opportunity of the afternoon. Lynden Gooch recieved the ball on the right, before taking the ball inside onto his left, and curling an effort at goal. The strike hit off of Alan McCormick and straight to Chris Maguire on the edge of the box, allowing the Scotsman to rifle it past the helpless, James Shea.
I have no idea how the Hatters weren’t level just a couple of minutes later. Luton broke free down the left. Shinnie slid it into Elliot Lee, who looked to have set it up on a plate for Town’s top scorer, James Collins, but his effort from point-blank range was somehow kept out the McLaughlin. What a save.
The next chance came after 31 minutes, when Luke O’Nien’s cross was met by Charlie Wyke, but his effort was looping header was easily gathered. After what was an eventful first 20 minutes, the last 20 minutes of the half was certainly the complete opposite. The final chance of the first half was when Jack Baldwin rose highest of all, following a corner but his effort was easy saved by Shea.
Half Time- Sunderland 1-1 Luton
The second half got underway and it was a similar story to the first half with the away side starting the best of the two sides. A through ball was played through which both McCormick and Danny Hylton went for. It was McCormick who took it and curled over, but it would of probably have been best left for Hylton. Luton continued to play fluent football and were awarded a penalty after 66 minutes. A long-ranged effort by Collins struck the inside of the post before the rebound looked certain to be tapped home by Hylton, but apparently the Hatters striker was brought down by Baldwin and referee, Lee Probert pointed to the spot. It was an extremely soft penalty and i would have certainly have been enraged if a penalty was given against my team for that. Anyway, this time McLaughlin was left powerless as Collins stepped up and fired his effort down the middle before winding up the home fans along with his team mates.
The game was turned on its head when Danny Hylton was sent off following an arial challenge with Jack Baldwin. Probert has his red card out before the Luton man got off the ground so was more than certain Hylton caught the Sunderland defender was his arm. The home side nearly took the lead, following the sending off. On the 75th minute, Aidan McGeady unleashed a piledriver from 25 yards, which came crashing off the bar before Wyke’s follow-up was headed over. Tempers were beginning to boil over at The Stadium Of Light, with the home fans and players getting very fustrated with the referee and the timewasting by the visitors. This led to Sunderland also being reduced to 10 men as goalscorer Maguire was sent off for an apparent stamp on McCormick.
A draw was the correct and fair result as it finished, Sunderland 1-1 Luton Town.
McLaughlin, O’Nien, Baldwin, Flanagan, James(87), McGeouch, Power, McGeady, Maguire, Gooch(79), Wyke
Subs- Ruiter, Ozturk, Oviedo(87), Mumba, Matthews, Dunne, Kimpioka(79)
Shea, Stacey, Bradley, Pearson, Justin, Ruddock, McCormack, Lee(79), Shinnie, Hylton, Collins
Subs- Isted, Berry(79), Jones, LuaLua, Potts, Sheehan, Thorne
Referee- Lee Probert
Assistants- Andrew Garratt, Steven Meredith
Fourth Official- Darren England
Attendance- 37,791 ( 3,083 Luton)
Goals- Maguire(16), Collins(67)
Yellow Cards- Flanagan(45), Lee(45+2), Maguire(75), Collins(80), McCormack(90+3)
Red Cards- Hylton(70), Maguire(90+3)