Ben Brereton Diaz opened the scoring with a spectacular left-footed strike from the edge of the box in the 32nd minute. The ball fell to him kindly after a good block by Danny Batth and the Chile international wrapped the ball into the top left corner of Anthony Patterson’s net.
However, there was controversy around the goal as Jack Clarke was tripped up in the box at the other end of the pitch just seconds before Diaz’s strike, but referee Craig Pawson did not see the contact and waved away the appeals.
Rovers then sealed the three points as Scott Wharton flicked a free-kick into the back of the net with his head, beating Luke O’Nien at the near post and giving Patterson no chance to stop it.
Tony Mowbray’s side may feel aggrieved by the referee’s no-call for the apparent foul on Clarke but they did not create enough high-quality chances or make the most of the opportunities they did get for the rest of the 90 minutes to warrant taking home the three points.
There were, however, some positives to take out of the game; one of them being the performance of captain Corry Evans in the middle of the park.
He was the shining light for Sunderland in midfield as he put in an excellent display against his former club. The 32-year-old helped the Black Cats to control the game, ending the match with 60% possession, but his teammates were not able to make the most of the domination that he played a role in creating.
Evans was almost faultless in what he did in possession. As per SofaScore, he completed 98% of his attempted passes (58/59) and all nine of his long pass attempts, which allowed his team to enjoy plenty of time on the ball.
He had 65 touches, more than Alex Pritchard’s 54, as he set the tempo for Sunderland which consequently presented the forwards with the opportunity to make things happen at the top end of the pitch. Unfortunately, Pritchard did not create a single chance after teeing up Dennis Cirkin in the second minute and Patrick Roberts did not provide any key passes from his 70 touches.
Evans won 80% (4/5) of his individual duels off the ball and made four tackles and interceptions combined. This shows that he was strong out of possession and that – along with his play on the ball – is why the midfield warrior was the star of the show for Mowbray on the night.