Sunderland secured a massive three points with a 3-1 victory over Oxford United at the Stadium Of Light.
That victory is a huge boost against a fellow promotion rival, while it also keeps the pressure on Peterborough United and Hull City who also won to maintain their place in the top two for now.
Lee Johnson’s side made two changes for this one with Conor McLaughlin and Jordan Jones returning to the starting line-up in place of Carl Winchester and Aiden O’Brien who dropped to the bench
As for the U’s, Karl Robinson made just one change with Anthony Forde coming into the starting line-up and will replace Josh Ruffels.
It was a fairly even opening with both sides showing early attacking intent but it was the visitors who opened the scoring after 21 minutes when James Henry picked up the ball outside the penalty on the right and fired a low, hard effort past Lee Burge into the bottom corner.
Sunderland regrouped fairly quickly and took the game to Oxford but found that their play was often too predictable with Jordan Jones being the primary outlet for Lee Johnson’s side.
Oxford were pressing hard and keeping Sunderland at a comfortable distance which meant that the hosts were limited to speculative efforts such as Aiden McGeady’s left-footed effort that flew wide of the mark.
The Irish winger had another effort not long after as he hit a curling free-kick at goal but saw it parried away by Jack Stevens in the visiting goal.
Sunderland were building momentum before the break by pumping balls into the box but found their equaliser at the end of the first half when a jinking run from Jones took him into the area before he found Lynden Gooch who tapped home from close range.
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Oxford started the second half the better and threatened early on when a fizzed Stevens free-kick went wide of the mark, but Sunderland soon got a grip on the half as they started to dictate play and carved out a half chance with a McGeady free-kick that was easily cleared.
The game was then blown wide open as Mark Sykes was sent off for a second bookable offence after a rash challenge on Luke O’Nien in the opposition penalty area.
Sunderland nearly made the most of their numerical advantage moments later when Gooch wriggled free in the box but lashed his effort just wide of the mark.
Olamide Shodipo then had a chance for Oxford that was well blocked, before Ross Stewart nearly found the net with his first touch after coming on with a powerful header in the penalty area.
The hosts then came agonisingly close to taking the lead as Jordan Jones rattled the crossbar with a rasping effort from 25 yards out.
Sunderland kept probing and got their reward after 80 minutes when Aiden McGeady squeezed one home from the edge of the penalty to area to give the hosts the lead.
With Karl Robinson sent off from the touchline after complaining to the fourth official the tide was firmly in Sunderland’s favour as they looked to see out the game.
Oxford certainly pushed forward in the closing stages but were kept out by a wonderful last-ditch challenge by Callum McFadzean and then a goal line headed clearance from Luke O’Nien.
However the result was wrapped up late on when a counter-attack saw Charlie Wyke thread the ball to Max Power who slotted under the goalkeeper before celebrating in front of the away dugout.
As far as victories go they don’t come much bigger than this under the circumstances and there’s no doubt that this was a big step in the right direction for Lee Johnson’s side as they push for promotion.