Sunderland suffered a frustrating afternoon at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium as Marcus Browne’s 87th-minute strike meant they were held to a 1-1 draw.

Jimmy Dunne had opened the scoring for the Black Cats with a first-half header – what were the main talking points to emerge from the game?


The Northern Echo:

Given he has only just recovered from an ankle problem, it was always going to be a big ask for Will Grigg to hit the ground running in the wake of his deadline-day move from Wigan Athletic.

The Northern Irishman worked hard enough against a physical Oxford backline, and a number of his runs hinted at a keen spatial awareness, but as his match sharpness returns, he will hope to pose more of a threat in the final third.

“That’s the balancing act you have when it comes to a player coming in in January when he’s not been playing regularly for his previous club,” said Jack Ross. “You hope he’ll have a freshness to him, but equally you’ve got to get him up to match speed because he’s started so few games this season. It was nice to get him out on the pitch.”


The Northern Echo:

Sunderland’s failure to offer much of a threat from corners has been a sources of frustration all season, but that finally changed when Jimmy Dunne powered home a header from the edge of the six-yard box.

Dunne’s towering presence makes him a major threat from set-pieces, and with Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan also well over six foot, Saturday’s goal should not be Sunderland’s last from a corner this season.

The arrival of Grant Leadbitter should also help, with the midfielder having proved adept at picking out his team-mates from corners and free-kicks during his time at Middlesbrough. It is not a surprise that Leadbitter has immediately taken over corner duties at Sunderland.


The Northern Echo:

Sunderland’s resistance was eventually broken with three minutes left, but Oxford would have scored at a much earlier stage had it not been for the excellence of Jon McLaughlin in the Black Cats goal.

McLaughlin made fine first-half saves to keep out headers from Josh Ruffels and Jamie Mackie, and also produced an excellent second-half stop after James Henry flicked on Gavin Whyte’s deflected cross. Not, however, that his manager was wanting to get too carried away.

“I get slightly irritated with this fascination with my goalkeeper making saves,” said Ross. “I grew up watching Manchester United, who were the best team when I grew up, but people don’t remember Peter Schmeichel because he had nothing to do – they remember him because he made big saves. Jon made some big saves, but he’s a good goalkeeper and that’s why I brought him to the club.”


The arrival of five players in the January window has swelled the size of Sunderland’s squad significantly, and means Ross now finds himself with some difficult decisions when it comes to his matchday 18, let alone his starting XI.

Kazaiah Sterling’s absence from Saturday’s squad was not too much of a surprise, but the omission of Chris Maguire was a much more notable development given his importance in the first half of the season.

Maguire – christened ‘the King’ by Sunderland supporters - was a talismanic presence in the early stages of the campaign, but could well find game time much harder to come by in the next three months.


Saturday’s result means Oxford are only clear of the League One relegation zone on goal difference, but the Us do not look like a side that are destined for the drop.

Their marking from set-pieces is clearly an issue – Dunne was left all alone as he headed home in the first half – but their attacking play was neat and tidy and in the impressive Gavin Whyte and the polished Cameron Brannagan, they boast two midfielders capable of delivering dangerous balls from the flanks.

If Jerome Sinclair can establish himself in the starting line-up and play as he did in the final half-hour at the weekend, Oxford should be able to survive.