Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes are all-but over after being held to a 3-3 draw by Accrington Stanley.
Despite being two goals up at the break, the Black Cats are now nine points behind the top two with three matches left, meaning that it would take a momentous stroke of fortune to see them catch Peterborough United in second.
Lee Johnson made three changes for this one after bringing Denver Hume, Aiden McGeady and Aiden O’Brien back into the starting XI in place of Callum McFadzean, Grant Leadbitter and Jordan Jones who dropped to the bench.
For Stanley it was an unchanged side from the team that beat Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday evening.
It was Sunderland who almost got off to the perfect start when an Aiden McGeady corner was met by Josh Scowen who had his early goal-bound effort blocked.
The breakthrough came just moments later when O’Brien fed the ball out to Lynden Gooch on the right side of the area who floated the ball to Charlie Wyke who placed a header past the goalkeeper.
Sunderland made it 2-0 after 11 minutes when Scowen won the ball in the middle of the park, played it out to Aiden McGeady on the left who found Wyke in the box to give him the simple task of slotting between the goalkeeper’s legs.
Wyke almost got his third after 22 minutes when another fizzed cross from McGeady narrowly evaded his outstretched laces in the six-yard box.
Accrington did have a couple of threatening moments as Lee Burge pulled off a sublime stop to deny a headed effort going into the top corner of the net, before Adam Phillips fizzed a vicious effort wide of the mark after finding space in the box.
McGeady was next to have a crack when Gooch threaded a nice ball through to him in the area only to have his effort deflected wide for a corner, before O’Brien and Scowen had efforts that were easily saved.
In truth Sunderland could, and probably should, have had the game wrapped up at the break but a 2-0 lead was enough to leave Lee Johnson’s side feeling comfortable.
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Sunderland started the second half in control but Accrington found a route back into the game after 51 minutes when a wonderful through-ball from Dion Charles found Colby Bishop who slotted under Lee Burge with ease.
The visitors were building momentum as Sean McConville got himself onto the end of a cross and fired an effort into the side-netting.
Johnson’s side had completely taken their foot off the gas and were punished midway through the second half when Luke O’Nien attempted to head the ball back to Burge but in a communicative mishap it went over his head and into the back of the net to draw the game level.
But with the benefit of some shrewd substitutions Sunderland found their way into the lead once again when a counter-attack saw the Black Cats with four attackers against two defenders, leaving Max Power to restore the lead.
Spectacularly, that lead only lasted a few minutes before McConville curled a wonderful free-kick into the top corner of the net to make it 3-3.
It was a stunning end to the game with both sides pushing for a winner and Sunderland almost found it when McGeady curled an effort at goal only to see it cleared off the line.
Grant Leadbitter then went close himself as he curled an effort from 25 yard which was tipped around the post.
But despite a late rally Sunderland were made to pay for their second half lapse with their automatic promotion now hopes all-but over.
In fact with the chasing pack gathering pace there’s a chance that Lee Johnson’s side could be looking nervously over their shoulders as the hunt to secure a play-off spot gets very interesting indeed.