Sunderland 1-1 Fleetwood Town
Sunderland’s unbeaten start to the Sky Bet League One season continued on Saturday, as Jack Ross’ side played out an action-packed draw with Fleetwood Town.
Joey Barton’s side started the game on top and they deservedly led on ten minutes, as Paddy Madden headed home.
But after spurning a glut of clear-cut opportunities, they were punished, with Josh Maja volleying home his fifth league goal in seven matches to level before the break.
The Cod Army were handed a glorious chance to retake the lead following the interval, but Jon McLaughlin became the first Sunderland goalkeeper to save a penalty at the Stadium of Light [excluding penalty shootouts].
Sunderland could have won it at the death, but Fleetwood stopper Alex Cairnes produced heroics of his own to deny Jack Baldwin before the woodwork thwarted Jerome Sinclair.
After impressing in the Lads’ midweek Checkatrade Trophy clash with Stoke City, Denver Hume was handed his first league start of the campaign.
Glenn Loovens and Adam Matthews returned to the starting XI, while Sinclair and Charlie Wyke offered extra firepower from the bench.
Both sides mustered chances in the opening exchanges, as Lynden Gooch fired wide before Ashley Hunter rounded Jon McLaughlin and picked out Ched Evans who was unable to find the target
But with ten minutes played, Madden showed his strike partner how it’s done.
After forcing successive corners, the Cod Army took advantage of lacklustre defending as Madden beat his marker in the air to head home from six yards.
The visitors kept up the pressure and it almost got worse for the Lads when Madden threatened to burst through on goal, but Baldwin was more than happy to pick up a yellow card after tripping the forward to end the attack.
Fleetwood kept on coming, and had Evans packed his shooting boots, they surely would have added to their lead, with the striker failing to connect at the back post with the goal at his mercy.
Sunderland enjoyed more time on the ball as the half progressed, but they failed craft too many clear-cut openings.
Chris Maguire sent a 20-yard free-kick crashing into the wall and the follow-up was screwed wide, with Maja’s low effort forcing Cairns into his first save, albeit a routine one.
But with 38 minutes played the Lads were level, as Maja’s volley snuck into the corner to level.
The equaliser handed Sunderland a new lease of life, and they almost grabbed a spectacular second before the interval when Matthews’ rocket hurtled just wide of the post.
Despite ending the opening period in the ascendancy, the Lads were immediately pushed onto the back foot following the restart as Fleetwood won a penalty.
McLaughlin saved the day, though, leaping to his left to provide an historic save – the club’s first at home since Tony Norman in 1989 – to deny Madden.
The visitors continued to waste the opportunities that fell their way as Evans fired wide, but Sunderland were guilty of similar antics soon after, as Baldwin failed to score from close range.
Tom Flanagan made his league debut in the latter stages as a lull ensued, but it didn’t last, and the final stages were as frenetic as the first.
Ross’ side rallied late on as Cairns denied Baldwin at point-blank range and Sinclair struck the post, while McLauglin making a save in added time, but it ended level.
Sunderland: McLaughlin, Loovens, Baldwin, Matthews (Flanagan 72), Hume, Cattermole, McGeouch, Honeyman, Maguire (Sinclair 51), Gooch, Maja (Wyke 62).
Substitutes: Ruiter, Ozturk, O’Nien, James.
Fleetwood Town: Cairns, Coyle, Holt, Eastham, Evans, McAleny (Dempsey 60), Madden, Morgan (Spurr 23), Hunter (Wallace 89), Marney, Husband.
Subs not used: Jones, Long, Biggins, Sheron.