Published: 21:35, 19 February 2019
| Updated: 09:32, 20 February 2019
Gillingham left Sunderland empty-handed despite an impressive effort against the League 1 promotion-chasers.
The Gills were twice undone from corner kicks inside the opening 10 minutes but goals from Tom Eaves and Brandon Hanlan left the score level at the break.
Sunderland’s four million pound man Will Grigg put the home side back infront from the penalty spot and they scored a fourth with another spot-kick soon after.
It was always a daunting task for the Gills, facing a side backed by close to 30,000 fans and without a home defeat in the league prior to Tuesday’s match.
This was Gillingham’s fifth league visit to Sunderland, losing three and drawing one of their previous four, but Lovell set up with his favoured diamond formation and was keen for his team to take the game to the home side.
It was a frantic start at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland struck with just five minutes gone, Lee Cattermole driving the ball home after the Gills had failed to clear a corner from Grant Leadbitter.
The Gills responded instantly thought, with Tom Eaves scoring his first outfield goal since mid-December, netting after Hanlan’s initial effort had been blocked.
With 10 minutes gone Sunderland were back infront. Once again a Leadbitter corner undid the Gills and this time it was former loanee Tom Flanagan on hand to head home, despite the best efforts of Eaves to clear from under the bar.
Once the Gills settled they made quite a game of it, looking good on the ball and breaking quickly from the back. They were still looking vulnerable from Leadbitter’s corners, however, with a couple dropping in the box before being cleared.
Gillingham got back on level terms again five minutes before the break, with a corner of their own which Sunderland failed to deal with. Leo Da Silva Lopes had a shot blocked from Luke O’Neill’s set-piece but Hanlan was on hand to finish.
Holy saved from Lynden Gooch before the break and Aiden McGeady shot wide as the teams went off for the break level.
Lopes had the first effort of the second half, a stinging effort that keeper Jon McLaughlin could only parry, grateful to see his defence mop up as Mark Byrne looked to pounce.
The Gills continued to cause Sunderland problems and Lopes put a shot over the bar but the hosts were always a threat and Holy had to get down well to palm away a shot from Leadbitter.
Sunderland were back infront on 66 minutes when Grigg scored his first for the club since a deadline-day move from Wigan. Ironically it was Wigan loanee Lopes who was adjudged to have tripped Luke O’Nien for the penalty which Grigg converted, sending Holy the wrong way.
O’Nien went down again in the box on 76 minutes, with the faintest of touches from Regan Charles-Cook but again referee Matt Donohue pointed to the spot. McGeady had moments early been denied by Holy with a good save but he sent the Gills keeper the wrong way, just like Grigg had moments earlier.
Gillingham finished strongly, with chances for Eaves and Elliott List, but Sunderland had a cushion which they held onto.
Sunderland: McLaughlin, Cattermole (Power 89mins), Maguire (Gooch 18mins), Honeyman, Flanagan, O’Nien, James, McGeady, Grigg, Leadbitter (McGeogh 85mins), Dunne. Subs not used: Ruiter, Ozturk, Wyke, Morgan.
Gillingham: Holy, O’Neill, Fuller, Ehmer, Ogilvie, Byrne, Lopes (Charles-Cook 69mins), Oldaker (List 74mins), Burke (Parrett 90mins), Eaves, Hanlan. Subs not used: Hadler, Reilly, King, Campbell.
Attendance: 28,364 (331 away)