Sunderland 2-1 Walsall
Sunderland closed the gap at the top of Sky Bet League One on Saturday, as Will Grigg’s calm finish sealed a 2-1 comeback win over Walsall.
The Saddlers led after just four minutes through Josh Gordon, but Lee Cattermole forced an equaliser before the break, firing the ball into the net via the woodwork and goalkeeper Liam Roberts.
Jack Ross’ side were by far the better side in the second period and they got their reward on 72 minutes, Grigg getting his goal after seeing a first-half effort ruled out.
And that proved to be that, as Sunderland, who hold a game in hand over their promotion rivals, moved within two points of Barnsley and seven points of top spot.
Walsall entered the side as somewhat of a Kryotonite for Jack Ross’ side, having emerged through three previous meetings unbeaten.
The Saddlers are one of just two sides to win on Wearside this season, and they picked up where they left off with an opener after just four minutes.
After winning the initial free-kick, Gordon came alive once more and Jon McLaughlin was powerless to prevent his innovative flick from whistling into the corner
Sunderland struggled to get going and they continued to invite pressure on themselves, but they had an effort ruled out on 15 minutes when a foul by Jack Baldwin saw Grigg’s close-range effort dismissed.
And things almost got even worse for the Black Cats moments later, as Zeki Ismail saw an effort cannon off a defender.
As the clock ticked beyond the 20-minute mark, the Lads stepped things up a gear and Lewis Morgan was a the heart of the action, curling an effort wide before stinging the palms of Roberts.
The tide was well and truly turned on 33 minutes, as Cattermole’s effort cannoned off the post and against the ‘keeper before ending up in the back of the net.
Much like Tuesday’s trip to Oakwell, the wind was a menace, but it worked in Sunderland’s favour when a misjudged cross dropped to Grigg and he forced a brilliant reaction save.
A flurry of chances followed after the restart as Walsall struggled to keep the Lads at bay, with long-range efforts from Leadbitter and McGeady forcing saves before Max Power headed over.
The Black Cats continued to pile forward, but Walsall’s Nicky Devlin was left reeling on 71 minutes, as the referee waved play on after the midfielder looked to have been fouled in the box.
But the Saddlers’ loss was Sunderland’s gain, as substitute Charlie Wyke teed up Grigg to send a low strike into the corner on 72 minutes.
Walsall fought until the last, but Ross’ men held firm and clinched a big win ahead of their trip to Wembley Stadium.
Sunderland: McLaughlin, Flanagan, Baldwin, O’Nien, Matthews (Hume 67), Leadbitter, Cattermole (Gooch 62), Power, McGeady, Morgan (Wyke 70), Grigg.
Subs not used: Ruiter, McGeouch, Sterling, Dunne.
Walsall: Roberts, Edwards (Oteh 88), Leahy, Dobson, Guthrie, Devlin, Ismail, Kinsella, Gordon, Scarr, Blackett-Taylor (Cook 83).
Subs not used: Dunn, Fitzwater, Osbourne, Laird, Norman.