Faced with a vociferous Portsmouth crowd baying for blood with one fan ejected after appearing to aim a kick and a punch at the defender Luke ONien when he fell into the crowd in the first half, Jack Rosss side stood firm to seal their place in the League One play-off final against Charlton or Doncaster with a performance of real maturity.
Read more It was no less than they deserved against opponents who never really offered enough of a threat going forward in a performance that was most uncharacteristic of a side managed by Kenny Jackett.
This was the fifth time these two sides have met this season, with Portsmouths victory in the Checkatrade Trophy final still fresh in the memory of the 30,000 Sunderland supporters who made the trip to Wembley at the end of March.
A fractious affair in the first leg, when Chris Maguire scored the only goal of the game, added to the needle on a sunny spring evening on the south coast and the home supporters were out in numbers in the hope of sealing a swift return to the site of their previous triumph. Indeed Sunderlands win last week was their first over these opponents since they beat them 2-0 at the Stadium of Light back in 2008 thanks to two goals from Kieran Richardson. Yet with several players who suffered the pain of successive relegations from the Premier League and then the Championship still on their books, they certainly had plenty of experience in their line-up as they sought revenge for the penalty shoot-out defeat at Wembley.
A crunching challenge from Gareth Evans within the first five minutes that left Lee Cattermole writhing in agony set the tone for a frantic first half when neither side held anything back. When Tom Naylor launched the ball at Maguire after a scuffle it was another sign that this would be a long evening for the referee, Peter Bankes.
Northallerton man arrested on suspicion of threat to “kill fans” at tonights Portsmouth v Sunderland match
One supporter seemed to take things too far when he clashed with ONien following a challenge from Tom Naylor. Cattermole had to be held back after he tried to confront the fan, who was later ejected by stewards having attempted at one stage to get on to the pitch.
BREAKING: Man, 22, from North Allerton in North Yorkshire arrested in early hours after threats made on social media about tonights Portsmouth V Sunderland game at Fratton Park.Now-deleted posts made reference to killing 150 Portsmouth fans setting off bombs.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Luke ONien falls into the crowd, where he appeared to be attacked by a fan. Photograph: James Marsh/BPI/REX/Shutterstock It was just a bit of handbags, nothing to worry about, said ONien, who declined to press charges after being asked whether he would like to by local police. Its happened and its something silly. Ive seen my little cousin hit harder than that.
Rather than fighting in the stands plenty of goals have been a feature of this years play-offs and it seemed likely that this match could follow suit when George Honeyman headed wide inside the first 10 minutes.
Grant Leadbitter and Chris Maguire start for Sunderland
Despite dominating possession, Portsmouth struggled to create much in the final third up against a defence led by Alim Ozturk, who had his red card ban from the first leg overturned on appeal. Evans finally tested Jon McLaughlin on the stroke of half-time when Oli Hawkins picked him out in front of goal, but the goalkeeper made a brilliant save to deny his header from point blank range.
Read more Portsmouths revival under Jackett has been building steadily and they finished three points ahead of Sunderland in fourth place in the regular season. He threw on his top scorer, Jamal Lowe, seven minutes after the break when the towering Hawkins called McLaughlin into action again with a header from Lee Browns deep cross.
Sunderland, for their part, looked comfortable on the ball as they attempted to keep possession high up the field, although there was always a sense that they could be vulnerable on the break. That proved to be the case when Lowe wriggled free of his marker on the right and picked out Brett Pitman, whose high ball in was headed down by former Sunderland striker James Vaughans first touch and saved by McLoughlin with his feet.
In the central role Id hope Chris Maguire has done enough to start tonight. His goal was top-class and his guile and ability could be a huge factor in tonights game. Would Ross drop his skipper to accommodate the former Bury man? Or will Maguire be seen as an impact sub, much like the other evening? Certainly his duel with Christian Burgess may add a bit more spice to the second leg but Sunderland can ill afford to get involved with anything that allows the referee to brandish more cards tonight.
That, however, was the last real chance Portsmouth created in normal time as they were pressed back, with a lack of discipline also letting them down when it mattered most.
There is a case for bringing Grant Leadbitter in for his passing range or Dylan McGeough for his defensive game, but unless Ross will want to keep changes to a minimum knowing his side has the beating of Portsmouth already. In all the games these two sides have played the contest has been largely an even one, but last Saturday Sunderland clearly had the edge at crucial times in the contest. Ross will hope his side maintain that approach this evening.
The majority of the six minutes added time were spent defending a series of throw-ins in their own half as their opponents wound the clock down. We got up a good end of steam but we couldnt take our chances, said a disappointed Jackett.
It was not a pretty spectacle, though the travelling supporters behind McLoughlins goal did not seem to care as they celebrated long after the final whistle.
Leadbitter returns to the starting line-up after he was an unused substitute in the first leg, while Maguire steps up to the starting side after coming off the bench to score the only goal of the game at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland defender Luke ONien was “punched” by a Portsmouth supporter during Thursdays League One play-off semi-final second leg at Fratton Park, according to team-mate Lee Cattermole.
Lewis Morgan and Lynden Gooch have dropped out of the starting side, so it remains to be seen whether Ross sticks with the same 4-2-3-1 formation he fielded in the first leg.
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The incident, which happened after ONien tumbled over the advertising hoardings chasing the ball, led to a fan being escorted from the stand.
GRANT LEADBITTER and Chris Maguire return to Sunderlands starting line-up for this evenings play-off decider at Portsmouth.
Sunderland set for Wembley return after game management masterclass against Portsmouth
Sunderland manager Jack Ross said the incident during the goalless draw “wasnt great” but that he “wouldnt make a big deal of it”.
The Black Cats are defending a 1-0 lead from the first leg, and Jack Ross has opted to make two changes at Fratton Park.
However, Cattermole told BBC Radio 5 Live: “He was punched in the back – I was very disappointed and very surprised that people think they can do that when they come to watch a game.
“It was a tense atmosphere, Ive played here a few times. Its a great ground with a cracking support and its a shame sometimes one lets them down.”
@deeth11: “The supporters will roar as always the players will have to use every bit of strength in their body defend well and Jack Ross just do what you do. The champion league looms for us all xxxxx”