Sunderland 2-1 Bristol Rovers
Sunderland produced a commanding comeback on Saturday to defeat Bristol Rovers at the Stadium of Light.
A shaky start on Wearside saw managerless Rovers strike first, as Alex Rodman pounced in the box and delivered an assured finish.
The Lads responded and soon took charge of the game, and their equaliser was timed to perfection, Adam Matthews stooping at the back post to head home on the stroke of half-time.
Josh Maja’s 13th goal of the season completed the turnaround four minutes after the restart, and it could have been more, as Max Power and Chris Maguire followed in Lee Cattermole’s footsteps by striking the woodwork.
In the end in didn’t matter, though, as Maja’s strike earned three points.
Jack Ross made wholesale changes for the game, as Matthews, Cattermole and Lynden Gooch were named in the starting XI.
But the Lads were dealt a blow ahead of kick-off, as Reece James pulled out of the side following the warm-up and was replaced by Bryan Oviedo.
Tom Flanagan also missed out and Rovers took advantage, as the Lads’ makeshift back four was put under pressure early on.
And with 10 minutes played, Rovers got their reward.
Moments after Tony Craig headed wide, Rodman provided a cool head on an ice-cold afternoon, finishing well after the ball dropped invitingly inside the box.
Maja planted a free header well over the crossbar as the Lads responded, but the striker’s blushes were spared by an offside flag.
Ross’ men started to turn the screw after the 20-minute mark, and they were desperately unlucky not to level when Cattermole steamed in at the back post and volleyed against the woodwork.
The equaliser had been coming and it arrived on the stroke of half-time, as Matthews nodded home the rebound after Aiden McGeady's initial effort was saved.
Parity didn’t last long following the restart, as Sunderland struck again.
After surviving an early scare when Liam Sercombe broke into the box, McGeady drove into the Rovers half before sliding a sumptuous ball into Maja, and the 19-year-old did the rest, putting a defender on his backside before firing into the net.
Rovers refused to go down without a fight and they continued to threaten, but the Lads remained a threat on the counter as they soaked up the pressure and looked to pounce.
Maguire was first to enter the fray and he was quickly followed by Robbin Ruiter, as Jon McLaughlin, who required treatment earlier in the half, headed straight down the tunnel.
Power was denied a goal-of-the-season contender late on, drilling against the crossbar from 35 yards, and the Gas continued to hang in there as Maguire hammered the follow-up against the post.
Seconds later, McGeady fizzed wide when he could have provided a tap-in for Duncan Watmore or Maguire, but it didn’t matter in the end, as the Black Cats secured three points.
Sunderland: McLaughlin (Ruiter 76), Loovens, Baldwin, Matthews, Oviedo, Cattermole, Honeyman, Power, McGeady, Gooch (Watmore 84), Maja (Maguire 75).
Substitutes: McGeouch, Ozturk, O’Nien, Sinclair.
Bristol Rovers: Bonham, Rodman (Payne 76), J. Clarke, Lockyer, Craig, Kelly, Holmes-Dennis (Nichols 66)), O. Clarke, Upson, Sercombe (Bennett 63), Jakubiak.
Subs not used: Smith, Broadbent, Leadbitter, Russe.