Sunderland climbed back into the play-off spots and up to fourth place as they ran riot against ten-man Cambridge United at the Stadium of Light. The Black Cats played for more than 75 minutes with an extra man after U’s defender Lloyd Jones was shown a straight red card for denying Ross Stewart a clear goalscoring opportunity, and it was a decisive moment as Stewart also tucked away the resulting penalty.
Elliot Embleton scored a brilliant free-kick just before the hour, only for Paul Digby to halve the deficit within a minute. But Stewart scored his second for him and Sunderland’s third ten minutes before the break, before Nathan Broadhead made it 4-1 shortly after half-time and Danny Batth netted his first goal for the club to complete the route inside the final 20 minutes.
This win extended Sunderland’s unbeaten run to 11 games, and was their fifth home victory in a row. More importantly, it lifted them to fourth in the table – level on points with fifth-placed Plymouth and sixth-placed Wycombe, but ahead of the Pilgrims on goals scored, and ahead of the Chairboys on goal difference. The Black Cats also still have a game in hand of both.
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Alex Neil made three changes to the side that started Sunderland’s Easter Monday goalless draw at Plymouth Argyle, with Batth, Lynden Gooch, and Patrick Roberts coming into the side in place of Dennis Cirkin, Jack Clarke, and Jay Matete. Cambridge boss Mark Bonner made seven changes to the side that lost at home to Charlton in midweek, reverting back to the same line-up that beat league leaders Wigan last weekend.
Dimitar Mitov, George Williams, Paul Digby, Joe Ironside, Harvey Knibbs, James Brophy, and Adam May came into the side, replacing Will Mannion, Liam Bennett, Liam O’Neil, Wes Hoolahan, Tracey Shilow, Jack Lankester, and Ben Worman . Sunderland suffered an early blow when Carl Winchester went down injured following a challenge after only 10 minutes, and after lengthy treatment he limped off to be replaced by Callum Doyle.
But just a couple of minutes later, Sunderland made the breakthrough. It came after Stewart was flattened by Jones inside the penalty area as the Sunderland man was first to a bouncing ball, and referee Peter Wright immediately pointed to the spot and then produced a red card for Jones for denial of a goalscoring opportunity.
Stewart picked himself up to send Mitov the wrong way, scoring in the bottom left-hand corner. Roberts should have doubled Sunderland’s lead midway through the half when he collected the ball just inside the box in a central position, but he hit his shot straight at Mitov and the keeper parried it to safety. Embleton sent a couple of shots narrowly wide as Sunderland looked to press home their numerical advantage.
And on 29 minutes Embleton scored a magnificent free-kick, awarded after Doyle had been fouled out on the left flank just a couple of yards from the byline. Embleton saw that Mitov was off his line and curled a right-footed shot over the keeper’s head into the top right-hand corner from a seemingly impossible angle.
But Sunderland switched off and from the kick-off Cambridge hit straight back, with Paul Digby firing home from 10 yards after the Black Cats had failed to deal with a routine cross from the right. They did not have long to wait to restore their two-goal cushion, however.
Neat build-up play involving Doyle and Luke O’Nien saw the ball worked out to Lynden Gooch on the right, and his cross was brought under control by Stewart on the penalty spot before he steered his shot on the turn past the keeper into the bottom right-hand corner. Broadhead glanced at a header narrowly wide, and soon afterwards he felt a shot just the wrong side of the post.
And then from a left-wing cross, Broadhead’s header was brilliantly stopped by Mitov. Then, in injury-time at the end of the first half, Stewart headed wide after he got in front of his marker. There was no let-up in the second half, with Broadhead finally getting the goal, his performance deserved on 53 minutes.
Gooch delivered a precision cross from the right, and Broadhead found himself unmarked four yards out to head past the helpless Mitov. Batth and Gooch both missed the target as Sunderland went in search of further goals.
And the fifth duly came on 72 minutes, when a short corner routine on the left flank ended with Roberts crossing to the far post for Batth to head home. Sub Alex Pritchard almost added another with a shot from inside the box, but this time Mitov made the save.
The chances kept coming, and O’Nien should have got on the scoresheet when he was picked out by Gooch with another excellent cross, but he headed straight at the keeper.
How they lined up
Sunderlands: Patterson, Wright, Batth, Winchester (Doyle 10), Gooch, Evans (Neil 67), O’Nien, Embleton, Roberts, Broadhead (Pritchard 59), Stewart. Subs not used: Hoffmann, Clarke, Matete, Hume
Cambridge United: Mitov, Williams, Okedina, Jones, Iredale, May, Digby, Smith (Bennett 46), Knibbs (O’Neil 62), Brophy, Ironside. Subs not used: Mannion, Hoolahan, Tracey, Lankester, Worman
booked: Iredale, Smith
Referee: Peter Wright (Merseyside)
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.