It was a real mixed bag of fortunes for Sunderland during December. The Black Cats played eight games during the month, with one of those being abandoned in the second half. Of the completed games, three were won, two were drawn and two ended in defeat.
Fans saw the team knocked out of the FA Cup but progress in the Checkatrade Trophy. In the latter, they will play rivals Newcastle at the Stadium of Light. Long-term absentees made their comebacks but the team also slipped to third in the table. Here is a look back at the goings on at Sunderland during December.
Sunderland December Review
Watmore and Wyke Return
Much to the delight of everyone, Duncan Watmore and Charlie Wyke made their comebacks. Watmore returned after a second long-term injury. The latest has kept him out for over a year. The popular forward has given Jack Ross a new option with his direct style of play. An example of this was on Boxing Day when he collected the ball near his own box and proceeded to run at the Bradford defence, carrying the ball around 100 yards at pace, beating several players in the process. He was eventually fouled and the resulting applause was thunderous.
Charlie Wyke, signed during the summer, made his return against Bradford, coming on as a late substitute. The striker has hardly played this season due to injury but now looks fitter than ever. Like Watmore, he gives a different option. He is more physical than the other forwards at the club and his ability to hold up the ball can prove invaluable.
Contract Talks Ongoing
The contract talks between the club and first-teamers Lynden Gooch and Josh Maja are close to ending. American Gooch has signed a new three-and-a-half-year deal, much to the delight of his manager, club and fans.
Talks with Maja, on the other hand, are not going as smoothly as hoped. The 20-year-old leading scorer with 13 league goals has yet to commit having received an offer of a new contract from the club.
It would obviously be a blow should Sunderland lose their top scorer during the transfer window. However, if a deal cannot be reached, a move would be better for all parties concerned. Maja has been attracting interest from the Championship and the Premier League, so he and Sunderland should not be short of offers.
Transfer Budget Boost
The Boxing Day crowd of 46,039 not only saw Sunderland smash the previous League One attendance record, but it also gave the club a transfer budget boost. Black Cats director Charlie Methven stated that, due to the huge crowd for the visit of Bradford, an extra £300,000 can be added to the transfer budget. With Sunderland chasing automatic promotion, the extra funds could make a big difference to Jack Ross.
Walsall (A) (FA Cup): D 1–1
Sunderland extended their unbeaten run to 15 games but could not book their place in the FA Cup Third Round. The away side dominated the first half and got their reward in the 37th minute. Aiden McGeady, captain for the day, continued his excellent form by scoring the opening goal.
Walsall were much improved in the second half and got their equaliser. Both teams had chances to win the tie but in the end, they had to settle for a replay to see who could advance to the next round.
Notts County (H) (Checkatrade Trophy): W 2-0
Duncan Watmore made his long-awaited return to star in a victory to take his side into the next round. A straightforward win saw the home side take the lead on 22 minutes through an own goal. A second-half penalty from Jerome Sinclair sealed the result. The victory gave Sunderland a next round fixture with local rivals Newcastle.
Accrington (A): Match Abandoned
With the scores locked at 1-1, the game was abandoned with 20 minutes to play. Heavy rain saw the start of the game put in doubt. However, the pitch was deemed playable. Chris Maguire gave Sunderland the lead but as conditions got worse, the home side scrambled in an equaliser. Soon after, with the pitch unplayable, the referee made the decision to stop the game.
Walsall (H) (FA Cup): L 0–1
A disappointing display saw the Black Cats knocked out of the FA Cup in the second round for just the second time in their history. In a poor game of few chances, Walsall scored the only goal to set up a third round tie away at Bolton. The only positive that Sunderland could take is that their fixture pile-up will not get worse by the FA Cup.
Bristol Rovers (H): W 2-1
A freezing Stadium of Light crowd saw their team return to winning ways. However, it was not as easy a some were expecting. Managerless Rovers took an early lead but the home side finally equalised during first-half stoppage time; Adam Matthews with the goal. Josh Maja put Sunderland into the lead early in the second half with a good finish. Both sides could have scored again. Max Power and Chris Maguire were denied by the woodwork as were Bristol Rovers late on.
Portsmouth (A): L 3-1
The home side came out on top in this top of the table Christmas clash. An even first-half saw the sides go in at half-time level. However, Portsmouth started the second-half the better and soon took the lead. Sunderland defender Glenn Loovens was sent off for a challenge in the box and Pompey scored from the resulting penalty.
Soon after, ten-man Sunderland were two down as the game looked lost. However, Luke O’Nien pulled a goal back. An unlikely draw seemed possible but any hopes of a comeback were quickly dashed as Portsmouth regained their two-goal advantage.
Bradford (H): W 1-0
Sunderland director Charlie Methven challenged fans to beat the League One attendance record of 38,000. A target of 40,000 was set. Fans accepted the challenge and smashed the record. A crowd of 46,039 turned up on Boxing Day to roar on their team.
Only Manchester United and Liverpool recorded larger attendances and the crowd were rewarded with a victory. Winger Aiden McGeady scored the goal on 31 minutes to give his side a deserved three points. The Black Cats were the better team but could not get a second to make the game a nervy one for fans. They held on to narrow the gap at the top of the table.
Shrewsbury (H): D 1-1
A frustrating afternoon was endured by fans as they saw their side struggle against Shrewsbury. Sunderland were well below their best against a side with the worst away record in the division. However, they managed to avoid defeat, a testament to the attitude that the players now have.
Shrewsbury took the lead on 30 minutes and this seemed to finally spur on the home side. An excellent move resulted in the equaliser. Bryan Oviedo’s superb cross was met by Josh Maja with a bullet header from close range. In the second half, both teams had chances to win the game but in the end, both had to settle for the point.
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