THE WORST of Sunderland’s Stadium of Light troubles arrived on two red-faced evenings in the cups last season.
Sunderland emerged victorious just four times on their own turf in the Premier League, yet it was the tame manner of their eliminations to Middlesbrough and Bolton in the Capital One and FA Cups which were the most pitiful moments of their home sickness.
The visit of a Football League side to Premier League grounds in the early rounds of the knock-out competitions is never a great recipe for comfortable progression.
The stadia are regularly half full at best and that eery atmosphere inevitably spreads to the pitch where the more humbly placed opposition quickly sense mission impossible is very feasible after all, particularly if they avoid conceding an early goal.
Given the balance between rotating the squad and still boasting sufficient quality to progress too, these are always uncomfortable, potentially banana skin-laden evenings.
If Sunderland are as lukewarm as they were against Boro and Bolton, yet another year of cup underachievement will be secured. Full stop.
MK Dons certainly have the players capable of hurting Sunderland.
The likes of Luke Chadwick, Sam Baldock and Stephen Gleeson have proved themselves some of the most consistent and proficient performers in League One.
But with several players keen to prove themselves in red and white for the first time tonight, lacklustre complacency may be an enemey which Sunderland can avoid.
It is certainly a trait which Paolo Di Canio won’t permit.
This it the perfect opportunity for those summer signings who have so far experienced a watching brief to be thrust to the fore.
David Moberg Karlsson, Vito Mannone and El-Hadji Ba could all be utilised by Di Canio and handed a decent introduction to their new environment.
Who else will get used by Di Canio though and how far will his changes reach?
Carlos Cuellar and David Vaughan, who both appear on the fringes of Di Canio’s blueprint, will hope for a lengthy run-out, even if the latter made a surprise appearance from the bench at Southampton.
So too will Fulham fall guys Valentin Roberge and Cabral, who could both consider themselves unfortunate not to feature at St Mary’s.
The intriguing aspect though is whether Steven Fletcher or Charis Mavrias are given a chance from the bench.
Fletcher has been making encouraging progress on the comeback trail, with Sunderland having to hold back the striker, but tonight could be an opportunity to bring back those competitive memories.
Sunderland desperately need the Scotland international firing as soon as possible.
For Mavrias too, big things are expected, with the Greek targeted as a potential alternative to James McClean on the flanks, well before the capture of Emanuele Giaccherini.
Mavrias hasn’t enjoyed a substantial pre-season, which may count against him tonight, but a place among the substitutes seems a sensible middle ground.
Di Canio will hope that by the time he turns to his bench, the game is effectively dead.
Let’s face it, the confidence boost stemming from a victory - whatever the competition - cannot do Sunderland any harm after a solitary point from the opening two games.
A repeat of those dismal Boro and Bolton defeats is the last thing Sunderland need at this tender stage of Di Canio’s project.
Verdict: Home win