It wasn’t a classic – Lee Johnson pleased with ‘hard-earned’ Sunderland win



Posted Sunday, January 23, 2022 by PA

It wasn’t a classic – Lee Johnson pleased with ‘hard-earned’ Sunderland win

Sunderland boss Lee Johnson admits his side’s 1-0 victory over Portsmouth was no classic but was keen to point out the importance of finding ways to win matches in different circumstances.

Playing on a dreadful Stadium of Light pitch that resembles a cabbage patch, and facing a Portsmouth side willing to chase and harry from first minute to last, Sunderland produced precious little of the free-flowing football Johnson has championed throughout his managerial career.

But after Elliot Embleton broke the deadlock towards the end of the first half with a composed low finish into the bottom corner, Sunderland’s players dug deep to prevent Pompey from being able to claim an equaliser.

Experienced defender Danny Batth was excellent as he made his Black Cats debut at the heart of a back three, and the home side’s victory lifted them back into the automatic promotion positions as their three-game winless run came to an end.

Johnson said: “It was a very hard-earned win. You can see the pitch is not really conducive to play tiki-taka football, and that’s the reasoning for bringing in the likes of Danny Batth.

“I thought we were extremely solid today. If you look at how many saves Hoff (Thorben Hoffmann) has had to make, I can’t remember one of note, and we’ve had two or three really good chances.

“It definitely wasn’t a classic, but it was well fought. After the first 25 minutes, when I thought they were the better side, a Corry Evans tackle got us going and we pressed and hustled better. We had two or three chances where we caught them on the ball.

“Look at how many players we’ve got out of the team today – in the last 10 or 12 games, we could be really special if we get them back.

“But we need to win all types of games. It’s something I recognised early on in the season, but that we maybe didn’t address early enough. I think the signing of Danny has addressed that and given us that dominance.”

Portsmouth were the dominant side in the early exchanges, but after Ronan Curtis and Marcus Harness both directed efforts off target, Sunderland gradually grew into the game.

Embleton saw a curled shot saved by Gavin Bazunu, and the Black Cats midfielder claimed what proved to be the winner five minutes before half-time.

Leon Dajaku won the ball off Sean Raggett, Ross Stewart slipped a pass into Embleton’s path, and the 22-year-old stroked a clinical finish into the bottom corner.

Dan Neil fired wide as Sunderland looked to extend their advantage in the second half, and while Portsmouth enjoyed more possession in the closing stages, they failed to make much of an impact in the final third, with Batth successfully shackling Tyler Walker.

The visiting side’s best chance came with one minute left, but while substitute George Hirst rose unopposed to meet a corner, his header sailed over the bar.

Portsmouth boss Danny Cowley said: “I liked a lot about our performance in the first half. We won the ball back off Sunderland so many times, but when you do that, you have to score a goal.

“We played at a good tempo, with control, and created some chances, but you can’t play that well and not score the first goal.

“We had the ascendancy in the game, but then we conceded from a position where we had our own free-kick. The pitch is difficult, and we should really have learned that from the number of times we made Sunderland turn over possession in the first half-hour or so.

“We lost the ball, and they were clinical. When we had turnovers of our own, we didn’t take our chances.

“We made some substitutions to try to get back into the game and changed the system, but we’re probably a nearly team at the moment.”

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