SUNDERLAND clung onto to their one hundred per cent home record with a hard fought and tense performance beating newly promoted Bolton Wanderers by a single goal - provided once again by full-back Carl Winchester.

In what was an all Premier League tie less than ten years ago, it certainly had that sense of occasion that anything could happen between two open and free playing sides.

Within three minutes, Bolton survived a real scare. It was a calamitous moment from keeper Joel Dixon as Wanderers played the ball across the back. The keeper took one heavy touch out of his feet without realising Pritchard was closing him down but Dixon was spared his blushes by a last minute sliding challenge.

The Black Cats struggled to get going from there and it was an uncharacteristic start by this season’s standards. They had to survive a scare of their own when Gethin Jones was released down the right and his low cross was brilliantly place across the six yard box but just in front of Josh Sheehan.

Lee Johnson’s side rallied themselves from that chance and found the breakthrough on 16 minutes through a man who’s becoming a reliable source in front of goal.

After neat work on the left hand side, Dennis Cirkin was released with a ball over the top. The left-back teed up the right-back as he charged to the byline, cut the ball back and found Winchester at the back post who slammed the ball into the top of the net. Winiesta was at it again!

The first thirty minutes of the game wasn’t a game of clear cut chances but it did begin to open up. Jones once again found some joy down the right hand side but his low cross was just slightly in front of Doyle who couldn’t find the proper connection. But the Bolton striker had a glorious chance to equalise moments later.

Oladapo Afolayan jinked inside from the left and struck the ball to the far post. Keeper Thorben Hoffman spilled the ball right into the path of Doyle but the striker was denied by Sunderland’s German shotstopper as he came close to block the effort from around eight yards out.

Bolton continued to pile on the pressure and were denied on a few more occasions through blocks and interventions from a Sunderland defence who were coping with the efforts.

But the remainder of the half was a good open contest. The Black Cats did have a chance from a dead ball as Aiden McGeady stepped up from 20 yards or so only to see his curling effort blocked by the wall. The second half was absolutely all to play for.

The Northern Echo: Carl Winchester celebrates opening the scoring against Bolton Wanderers.Carl Winchester celebrates opening the scoring against Bolton Wanderers.

Sunderland had a glorious chance to double their lead when lovely build up play carved open Bolton down the right. Stewart held the ball up and released Winchester who then laid the ball inside to McGeady. The winger does what he does best and laid it on a plate for Alex Pritchard who was brilliantly denied by keeper Dixon at point blank range.

Bolton responded with pressure of their own when Sheehan’s cross from the left was met by the head of Doyle but his effort was tipped over the bar by keeper Hoffman.

In an attempt to change a Sunderland side that were just struggling for some rhythm, Johnson enforced a triple change on the hour mark with Leon Dajaku, Niall Huggins and Corry Evans entering the field of play.

In hindsight, it was more of a preservation job from the boss given Bolton’s sustained pressure going forward. Nevertheless, the were restricted by men in red and white.

Bolton thought they’d found an equaliser when Alofayan’s curling ball into the box found centre-back George Johnston at the back post but his volley hit the side netting and the defender wheeled away with his head in his hands. That was the indicator that the remaining ten minutes plus stoppage time would be big for Sunderland.

Having come on in the remaining 30 minutes, Huggins almost became the villain when his sliced clearance up into the air dropped to Bolton striker Doyle in a dangerous position but he was brilliantly blocked by his namesake Callum Doyle with a great sliding block. The rebound fell kindly again to the striker who was then denied by Hoffman. Great resilience from Sunderland.

The Black Cats had seven minutes of stoppage time to hold out for another home win and tempers flared when Santos and Stewart were involved in an altercation. The Bolton defender was booked for his troubles.

Dajaku could have made himself a hero and put the game to bed when Dan Neil’s drifting run from the left brought Sunderland into the box and laid it off to Dajaku. He took one touch and lashed the ball over the bar.

That just about sealed the win over the Black Cats as the Sunderland of Light breathed a big sigh of relief at the end of the game as they kept hold of their label as the best performing home team in any of the top five divisions.