AS far as games go, this was a game that had a bit of everything. Quality, entertainment and physicality but it was Sunderland who held their arms aloft with a huge win despite the odds.

It was the home side who provided the early intentions in the game. Centre-back Jack Tucker was playing in an unfamiliar role at the base of midfield but he didn’t look out of place there when he left trip from 25 yards with a half volley. The ball was flying into the corner before Thorben Hoffman dived high to his right and palmed the ball out for a corner. That was an early eye opener for the Black Cats.

The events off the pitch could have potentially marred the game for the home side. Gillingham are a team who have been hit hard by the impact of Covid-19 and the fans made clear of their feelings towards chairman Paul D.P. Scally with a banner that flew over the stadium that read ‘Time for Change – Scally out’

But events on the pitch were much more satisfying for them, especially in the first 20 minutes as Gillingham threw a few heavy challenges to let Sunderland know they were there.

Rocked by their slow start, Luke O’Nien was the guilty part that led to the first goal as he attempted to sweep away a clearance in his own box. Stuart O’Keefe nicked the ball and took the brunt of the kick winning a penalty for the home side.

Danny Lloyd stepped up from 12 yards and didn’t look like missing as he fire the ball into the right corner sending Hoffman the wrong way.

While Sunderland looked vulnerable, they weren’t offering an awful lot going forward with the front three who were all playing narrowly and crowding out the midfield. They escaped another left off when former Boro winger Muzzy Carayol teed himself up for a half volley on the edge of the box only to see the effort fly well wide of the post.

2,000 travelling supporters backed them for the near 650 mile round trip but even though it wasn’t the most inspiring first half from the Black Cats, one moment of quality changed the game for then.

In stoppage time, Sunderland worked the ball to the right where Dan Neil opened his body out, curled a delicious ball to the back post where Aiden O’Brien slid in ahead of defender Max Ehmer and buried his chance beyond Jackson.

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That was just about the final action of the first half but Lee Johnson will probably have known his side could do better in the second half.

Vadaine Oliver tried to light up the game with an acrobatic overhead kick that he connected well with but he ball flew straight into the hands of Hoffman.

Sustained pressure from the right was giving Sunderland some joy and it paid off for with the goal coming from an unlikely source.

After a corner was cleared to the right, Winchester won the ball back with a firm sliding challenge. The ball fell to Alex Pritchard who picked out Tom Flanagan at the back post with a delicious cross. The centre-half rose highest to nod home into the far corner to complete the turnaround just ten minutes into the second half.

The Black Cats were purring and found their impetus going forward but the complexion of the game changed completely with a moment of madness from Elliot Embleton.

25 minutes from time, following a heavy touch, Embleton tried to keep possession by flying into a sliding challenge with his studs showing on Tucker but got nowhere near. The Gillingham man was left in a heap on the floor as referee Lee Swabey had little choice but to dismiss Embleton down the tunnel for a rush of blood to the head. After a strong start to the second half, it suddenly turned into a perseveration job for Sunderland.

Johnson reshuffled the pack but Gillingham threw on the big men in search of an equaliser and defenders came off for strikers. It was going to be a big test for the Black Cats.

While there wasn’t many clear cut chances for the Gills, Dennis Cirkin was the hero to deny Kelman with a point blank header at the back post blocking at the vital moment.

The home side were restricted to balls into the box. However, Hoffman pulled off heroics to keep out McKenzie’s looping header somehow stretch every fibre in his arm to tip the ball onto the post. A ridiculous save from the Bayern Munich loanee.

With four minutes of stoppage time, John Akinde fell at the final hurdle from six yards out as he missed the ball from six yards out.

The ball was cleared out for a throw in which was then hurled into the box. Oliver was inches away with a backwards header that clipped the top of the bar.

To the relief of the tired Sunderland legs, the final whistle blew moments later to a roar from the travelling support. It was a tense and entertaining game but the result was paramount to the away side as the fans sang their way out the turnstiles and the Black Cats marched on up the league table.