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James Hunter

Sunderland make their point at Luton but Ellis Simms' return was crucial

Playing well, creating chances, but trailing. With 70 minutes gone at Luton, it was looking like another frustrating day on the road for Tony Mowbray's Sunderland.

Back-to-back defeats at Blackburn and at home to Burnley had halted their momentum, and a third successive reverse looked like it might be on the cards. But this time Mowbray had an extra trick up his sleeve.

At last! An actual, natural, centre-forward on the bench who could be brought on to give the Black Cats an attacking focal point as they chased an equaliser. Ellis Simms was back in the squad for the first time since the on-loan Everton man limped off with a toe injury at Reading in mid-September, which ruled him out of the next seven games.

READ MORE: Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray explains surprise Leon Dajaku inclusion at Luton

When Simms was introduced 20 minutes from time at Kenilworth Road, immediately Sunderland looked more of a threat. Within minutes, he had seen a shot blocked and then only a brilliant goalline block by Amari'i Bell prevented Jack Clarke lashing home the rebound.

And Simms had been on the field for only seven minutes when Sunderland equalised as sub Elliot Embleton tucked away Clarke's cutback and, while he was not directly involved, his presence had given the Luton defence an extra headache.

Sunderland had chances to win in the final ten minutes with Simms seeing another effort blocked, while fellow sub Patrick Roberts curled a shot just wide of the post. The second goal would not come for the visitors meaning they had to settle for a point, but it was the return of Simms that mattered more as far as the bigger picture is concerned.

Simms is not yet ready to start games, but assuming he came through this 20 minute cameo unscathed there is the possibility of a longer run-out at Huddersfield in midweek, and maybe more minutes in next weekend's home game against Cardiff City. Against Luton, Sunderland had done well even before Simms came on.

Mowbray's gameplan - to compete in the physical battle early on, before introducing his more technical players later on - had generally worked. He had brought in Bailey Wright for his first start of the season to add extra physical presence in defence, while Leon Dajaku was also making his first start of the campaign, initially operating on the right before switching to play as a central striker, to enable Clarke to move to the left wing position where is most effective.

Sunderland had to survive a harum-scarum opening 15 or 20 minutes when Luton looked capable of scoring every time they came forward and Alfie Doughty hit the post with a header. But after that the Black Cats got a grip on the game with man of the match Amad a constant menace, while they twice hit the woodwork themselves with Dajaku and Danny Batth the unlucky men.

In the end they were caught out by a sucker punch in injury-time at the end of the first half. Sunderland had possession of the ball in the right-back area with only seconds remaining before the interval but they gave it away and when it was switched out the right, Carlton Morris dug his knee into the back of Batth's knee, sending the defender to the ground and creating just enough space at the near post for him to sweep home Doughty's cross.

The Black Cats dominated the second half, and Mowbray made attacking substitutions with Embleton and Roberts among those introduced, along with Edouard Michut who also impressed.

But it was the arrival of Simms that made the difference, and demonstrated just what Sunderland have been missing over the last six weeks. Had either he, or leading scorer Ross Stewart, been available, Sunderland would not be sitting 16th in the table.


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