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Match Report: Sunderland 3-0 Dale
Wednesday, 12th Feb 2020 10:29 by AtThePeake

A dreadful opening 30 minutes at the Stadium of Light saw Dale succumb to a 3-0 defeat against promotion-chasing Sunderland on Tuesday night.

Two strikes from attacking midfielder Lynden Gooch either side of an Eoghan O'Connell own goal saw the Black Cats ease into an unassailable lead within the opening stages and then close out one of the more comfortable victories they will earn all season.

There were shades of Dale's other recent trip to the North East in the opening stages as the defence seemed incapable of dealing with the quick feet and energy of the opposition and, perhaps similarly to the loss at St James' Park, the occasion and surroundings played their part too.

No McShane or Rathbone in the starting eleven raised some questions among the Dale support, as did the inclusion of Matty Done in attack over Aaron Wilbraham and Tyler Smith. Rathbone missed out on the squad altogether, which suggests an injury, whilst McShane mightn't have wanted to risk two games in a matter of days given the issues he had been suffering earlier in the campaign.

From the kick-off, the hosts were piling the pressure on and Brian Barry-Murphy's backline never really look comfortable. A couple of dangerous balls into the box were dealt with, before one fell to the feet of Gooch who side-footed just wide on the volley.

It would only take three more minutes for the American to open the scoring though. Another dangerous cross from the right, this time from Chris Maguire, evaded Eoghan O'Connell and was met by the lunging Gooch, who pounced to divert home to make it 1-0 to the Black Cats.

Four minutes later, and Sunderland would double their lead. Having won the ball in midfielder after a misjudged touch from Jimmy Ryan, Gooch sped into the Dale half, checked back onto his right foot and found Maguire, whose low ball towards the six-yard box was met awkwardly by O'Connell. The ball bounced up off the Irishman's stretching foot, looped and spun over Robert Sanchez and into the top corner for 2-0.

With the game getting away from his team, Dale captain Ian Henderson went into the book after a tussle with Bailey Wright and a few moments later, he had a chance to get his side back into the game, only to linger on the ball for slightly too long as he looked to create space to get a shot away from the edge of the box.

Dale's defence looked completely at sea and it was only a matter of time until the third came. A lovely cushioned pass from O'Nien found Maguire on the right and his cut-back ricocheted back to O'Nien. The full-back's attempt was saved by Sanchez, but Gooch was quickest to react to the rebound to drive in the Wearsiders' third. Game well and truly over.

To make matters worse, Rhys Norrington-Davies was substituted off with an injury at this point and in the remaining minutes of the first half, it continued to be one way traffic. The only real chance of note however fell to O'Nien, who had shots blocked by both McNulty and Sanchez.

The second half almost played out like a friendly match. Dale clearly had one eye on the weekend's upcoming six-pointer with Tranmere and perhaps agreed to conserve energy for that challenge, whilst the Black Cats perhaps agreed to conserve energy for their own challenging fixture at the weekend, away at Oxford.

Ryan finally had Dale's first attempt of the game on 58 minutes, a fizzing attempt from long range that McLaughlin decided to punch away. Even had that somehow found a way in, there seemed to be little belief from the visitors that they could actually mount a comeback in what now seemed to be a lost cause.

Neither side really created much in the whole half until 81 minutes were on the clock, when Aaron Wilbraham flicked on a long ball from Sanchez. Henderson raced onto it and did well to beat the panicked Tom Flanagan, but the Sunderland keeper Jon McLaughlin did well to close down the angle and the Dale skipper could only lift the ball over the bar.

Sunderland almost made it four in the final few minutes as O'Nien's fierce shot was beaten away by Robert Sanchez, but the second half in all reality was a non-event as Dale slipped to a disappointing away defeat and attention turned to Saturday's huge fixture against Micky Mellon's Tranmere Rovers at Spotland.

Player Ratings:

Robert Sanchez: 6 - Couldn't really do too much about the three goals and actually made 2-3 decent saves otherwise, but didn't look his usual assured self when dealing with balls into the box.

Rhys Norrington-Davies: 5 - Went off in the first half but much of Sunderland's attacking threat in that opening 30 minutes came down his flank.

Eoghan O'Connell: 4 - His worst performance of the season by far, and not just for the own goal. Went back on himself and turned into trouble one too many times - and should've definitely done better with Sunderland's first.

Jim McNulty: 5 - Not quite as shaky as O'Connell, but not much better either. Was slightly quicker to get rid of the ball under pressure, which although hardly effective in relieving the pressure, at least took us out of immediate danger temporarily.

Luke Matheson: 5 - Erratic display from young Luke. Struggled to deal with Sunderland's interchangeable attackers and left himself exposed by diving into a few challenges that weren't there to be won.

Jimmy Ryan: 4 - More like the Ryan we saw in the opening stages of the season, constantly losing the ball or trying to take one too many touches. Improved in the second half but only because Sunderland allowed him more space.

Aaron Morley: 6 - Felt for him having to drop into the full-back position to facilitate a tactic that clearly wasn't working and he appeared to be getting into the game a bit more in the few minutes either side of half-time - only to be substituted for Wilbraham.

Matt Lund: 5 - Going to need a few more games to get up to speed. The majority of the game completely passed him by.

Stephen Dooley: 5 - See above, minus the excuse of needing a few more games to get up to speed. As usual, showed some lovely technique and nice touches, but lost the ball far too easily and failed to make any of the neat touches count.

Ian Henderson: 4 - One of Hendo's worst performances for us, this. Should've done better with our one big chance of the game, but also failed to take other opportunities to shoot by lingering onto the ball too much when we found space around the opposition area.

Matt Done: 5 - Gets a point more than Hendo simply for the fact that he ran around a bit more. Offered next to nothing with the ball at his feet however.


Jimmy Keohane: 6 - Even though it was in the first-half, the game was done by the time he came on and he couldn't really be blamed for any of the defensive frailty we showed throughout. Does seem slow to make even the most obvious of passes sometimes though.

Aaron Wilbraham: 6 - Probably should've been on the pitch much earlier, but he was only found a handful of times and generally failed to do much when he had it.

Ryan McLaughlin: 6 - Offered more energy than the rest of the midfield had before him - but to no avail and was shrugged off the ball with ease a couple of times.

Photo: Action Images

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