Fighting performance goes unrewarded in Sunderland.
Two second half penalties were the difference between Sunderland and Gillingham on Tuesday night condemning the visitors to defeat despite showing character to equalise twice in the first half.
In a frantic opening ten minutes, Tom Eaves latched on to a loose ball to finish tidily in between two goals from corners from Lee Cattermole and ex-Gills loanee Tom Flanagan.
Brandon Hanlan equalised for Gillingham to send the sides in level at the break as a corner was not fully cleared and the striker smashed home from close range.
However, in the second half a penalty apiece from four-million pound man Will Grigg and Aiden McGeady gave Sunderland all three points.
Gillingham Manager Steve Lovell made just one change from the side that returned to winning ways against Scunthorpe United at the weekend. DJ Oldaker replaced Billy Bingham in the anchor role of the diamond formation with Tahvon Campbell coming into the matchday squad.
The Black Cats started the game on the front foot with the back four pressed into early defensive action to clear the first attacks of the game. However, the first corner of the game led to a goal for Sunderland with the delivery rolling across the box for Cattermole to prod past Tomas Holy and put the hosts into an early lead.
The lead was short-lived however with Gills top scorer TOM EAVES latching on to Brandon Hanlan’s miscued shot from the edge of the area to take the ball past the keeper and bundle home under pressure. The equaliser coming in the sixth minute of a hectic start to the match.
Sunderland responded immediately in a frantic early start with the Gills defence having to get back to block Maguire’s shot from inside the area behind for a corner which was well-defended.
Gillingham were unable to hold out for long though as the next corner swung in to the back post found former loanee Flanagan who managed to squeeze his header past Mark Byrne and Holy on the goal-line inside ten minutes.
Despite the setback, the Gills managed to calm the game down and had the next opportunity with Luke O’Neill given time to get a good ball in from the right flank but McLaughlin just managed to get off his line and claim the ball ahead of Eaves.
Graham Burke then managed to get a shot away from 25 yards however his effort was deflected and bounced up for the keeper to come and gather.
Gills were continuing to hold possession well, moving the Sunderland defence around and eventually allowing Mark Byrne to take aim from 25 yards but he got under the effort lifting it comfortably over the bar.
Burke was the first man into the book for a cynical foul on Gooch who was bursting towards the Gillingham area.
After 40 minutes, the Gills were level again as a corner in from O’Neill wasn’t fully cleared and BRANDON HANLAN was in the right place at the right time to control and fire home from close range.
The Black Cats were immediately given another chance to regain the lead winning a free-kick 25 yards from goal. McGeady took the set piece but the Gillingham wall did its job to get a head on the shot and let Holy claim the high ball.
Gooch then found time on the edge of the area as Gillingham cleared a cross but shot straight at Holy after turning on to his right foot past Ogilvie.
With three minutes of added time played, the closest either side came was a shot from McGeady but he dragged wide from 30 yards.
H/T: 2 – 2
The Gills were out of the traps quickly in the second period, Lopes getting a powerful shot away from 30 yards that the keeper could only beat away.
McGeady had Sunderland’s first attempt of the half five minutes in but he sliced well wide and over. Lopes then had another effort but with a similar result to McGeady with the ball flying over.
The game was very end to end with Holy having to do well to get down and push away an effort from Leadbitter from 25 yards before the referee waved away claims for a penalty as Grigg went to ground in the area as a cross came in.
Pressure was starting to mount on the Gills defence and gaps appearing with Honeyman slicing over just past the hour cutting in on his left foot 20 yards out.
On 65 minutes, Sunderland were awarded a penalty as a low cross went right acrcoss the area and Lopes was adjudged to have brought down his man. Grigg took responsibility and sent Holy the wrong way as the Black Cats took the lead for the third time.
Lovell reacted by bringing on Regan Charles-Cook for Lopes to try and get the Gills back on terms but Burke’s effort from 30 yards dragged wide was the closest they were able to come with 73 minutes on the clock prompting Lovell to then bring on Elliott List.
O’Nien should perhaps have put the game beyond doubt on the counter but Holy made a brilliant stop to deny the acting right back from close range. From the resulting throw-in, Sunderland were given another penalty with Charles-Cook penalised – McGeady this time took the honours and slotted past Holy.
Sunderland had their tails up now with Holy forced to pull off a great save to deny Honeyman from a pull back inside the box.
A free-kick from 30 yards gave the Gills a chance to test McLaughlin and get back into the contest but O’Neill’s shot wasn’t powerful enough to beat the keeper.
Gillingham were still driving forward and a Charles-Cook corner was defended well before Barry Fuller smashed the loose ball just over from 30 yards. A miscue from List was the final action from the visitors who fell to defeat against their much-vaunted opponents.
F/T: 4 – 2
The Gills travel to Buckinghamshire on Saturday afternoon looking to get back to winning ways when they take on Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park.
Sunderland: McLaughline; O’Nien, Flanagan, Dunne, James; Leadbitter (McGeouch, 83), Cattermole (Power, 90); Maguire (Gooch, 18), Honeyman, McGeady; Grigg
Unused subs: Ruite (GK), Ozturk, Wyke, Morgan
Gillingham: Holy; O’Neill, Ehmer, Ogilvie Fuller; Oldaker (List, 74), Byrne, Lopes (Charles-Cook, 68), Burke (Parrett, 90); Hanlan, Eaves
Unused subs: Hadler (GK), King, Reilly, Campbell
Referee: Mr Matthew Donohue
Attendance: 28,364 (331)