DEFENDING champions Sunderland smashed six past Hartlepool United to maintain their 100 per cent record in the Central League Cup.
The rampant Black Cats second string were too much to handle for a rookie Pools outfit and blasted four second-half goals against the ragged hosts at Billingham Town.
The opening 45 minutes were tighter than the final outcome suggested, albeit Sunderland were in relative control after an early goal from trialist Aristote Guerin-Lokonga.
Jarrow Roofing frontman Guerin-Lokonga, in the third week of his stay at the Academy of Light, was full of pace and took his goal well before fading, although it was right winger Adam Mitchell who provided the real threat to the Pools back four.
Mitchell was replaced at the interval in a double substitution from reserve boss Keith Bertschin though, with the change proving decisive in giving the Black Cats the upper hand.
Billy Knott gave Sunderland added threat from the centre of the park, but it was Ryan Noble’s pace in behind Pools’ back line which sparked the glut of second-half goals.
In his first outing of the season, fit-again Noble showed few signs of rust and was permitted far too much room, even though he was unable to add to his coolly-taken goal from the penalty spot.
Bertschin felt his side should have provided more of a threat in the first half though, after Guerin-Lokonga had given them a fourth-minute lead.
“After the first couple of minutes, the lads might have thought it was going to be plain sailing and, unfortunately, it wasn’t,” said Bertschin.
“I thought we struggled a little bit in the first half and we had to get one or two things sorted out.
“There was a better attitude and urgency about the team in the second half, but I can’t fault the goals – there were some great finishes.
“It was comprehensive in the end, but we did allow them to have more of the game than I would have preferred.”
Craig Lynch gave Pools an early scare within the first 60 seconds when he darted into the area from the left and smashed a low shot towards the near post which keeper Andy Rafferty pushed behind.
The breakthrough did arrive three minutes later when Mitchell drifted into the pocket behind the strikers and played an inch-perfect slide rule ball in behind the home defence for Guerin-Lokonga, who placed a first-time shot beyond Rafferty into the far corner.
Pools right-back Jordan Richards was desperately unlucky not to level in the 11th minute when he curled a right-footed free-kick from 25 yards at goal which crashed off the inside of the far post, rolled along the face of goal and away.
Sunderland were forced into a change in the 13th minute when striker Oumare Tounkara limped off after failing to recover from a clattering Steve Haslam challenge. Jordan Cook took the place of the former Oldham loanee.
It took until the stroke of half-time for Bertschin’s side to double their advantage when Roarie Deacon was given too much room 25 yards out and let fly with a powerful drive that flew past Rafferty into the net.
Sunderland were handed a soft spot-kick four minutes into the second half when Noble charged down the right-hand side of the area and centre-half Paul Johnson was harshly adjudged to have brought the frontman down.
Noble stepped up and sent the ball straight down the middle past the wrong-footed Rafferty.
It was four in the 53rd minute when Noble squared from the left for Cook, 12 yards out, who dinked the ball cutely with the outside of his right foot beyond Rafferty into the far corner.
Pools pulled one back four minutes later when Richards’ left-wing corner was allowed to reach the far post, where Johnson headed home.
But Sunderland’s tally went to five in the 68th minute when Cook’s cross from the right found Lynch, on the far stick, who had peeled away from right-back Richards.
From 12 yards out, Lynch cushioned a sweetly-struck volley beyond Rafferty, who had showed too much of his far corner.
The woodwork denied Noble a second when Rafferty failed to come for Cook’s cross from the right and the Sunderland sub headed against the post from point-blank range.
But Lynch completed the rout in the 78th minute when he side-stepped the challenge of Johnson and unleashed a rocket into the far corner from the right-hand side of the area.
HARTLEPOOL UTD RES: Rafferty, Richards, Holden, Baldwin, Johnson (Buddle 80), Haslam, Rutherford (Jones 73), Hawkins, Brown (Snaith 59), Hassan, James. Subs not used: Mooney.
SUNDERLAND RES: Wilson, Bagnall, Marrs, Deacon (Noble 46), Egan, Laing, Mitchell (Knott 46), Elliott, Tounkara, Guerin-Lokonga, Lynch. Subs not used: King, Armstrong.