How a key Lee Johnson change helped put ruthless Sunderland within one win of Wembley

This was a win of ruthless efficiency.

Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 8:20 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 8:24 pm

Not much possession, only three shots on target, and an ultimately emphatic 3-0 win.

Sunderland's counter-attacking game did not always convince but in the end it brought enough gaps in an impressive MK Dons side to put the Black Cats within one win of Wembley.

Around 60 minutes into the contest, Lee Johnson made a move that told you everythung about the balance of play at that moment.

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Aiden McGeady's goal puts Sunderland two goals to the good at MK Dons

A quadruple substitution and a change of formation; Sunderland went to a back three, matching up their opponents.

It told you the balance of the game had shifted too far in favour of MK Dons.

Russell Martin's side relatively lowly position in League One belies their ability to control possession in games and as the game entered the final quarter, they had looked the most likely to score.

Sunderland sealed a rope-a-dope win when substitute Aiden McGeady rifled in a shot from the edge of the area that Lee Nicholls should have saved but could not.

It was Sunderland's first shot on target.

They had been a threat in the early stages of the game, MK Dons dominating possession but gifting up opportunities.

Sunderland were positive in committing players on the counter, with Lynden Gooch's return to the side bringing them plenty of energy through the middle.

Their pressing game also looked effective and it was through this that they sprung into that early lead; Gooch combining well with Aiden O'Brien in the middle of the pitch. The former released Jack Diamond, whose attempted cross to the back post was turned into his own by Dean Lewington.

Sunderland were winning possession back effectively, with Luke O'Nien particularly impressive on his first start under Lee Johnson.

A midfield role looked to be suiting him and it was no coincidence that MK Dons began to take control as he was forced into a left-back position by a Callum McFadzean injury.

Substitute Dan Neil brought poise in possession but so influential when the two sides met earlier in the season, Scott Fraser was beginning to dominate the contest.

Twice Joe Mason went close before the break, O'Nien also intervening with a superb clearance to keep the scores level as Fraser got ready to pounce.

The pattern of the second half was much the same before Johnson's crucial change, with Sorinola going close and Fraser forcing a terrific save from Remi Matthews before the hour mark.

McGeady's firm strike change the pattern of the play, Sunderland comfortable and the hosts visibly downbeat.

The third goal was one of real quality.

Grant Leadbitter's initial corner was disappointing as it struck the first man, but when the ball returned to him he made no mistake. The cross was inch perfect, turned towards goal impeccably by the substitute Charlie Wyke.

From there the Black Cats were dominant as they saw the game out in complete comfort, even coming close on one or two occasions to extending their lead further.

It was rarely straightforward, but the end result was a superb one.

Sunderland XI: Matthews; Power, Willis (Leadbitter, 59), Flanagan, McFadzean (Neil, 25); Diamond, Scowen (Wyke, 60), O’Nien, Jones (Younger, 59); Gooch ,O’Brien (McGeady, 59),

Subs: Patterson, Maguire

MK Dons XI: Nicholls, Lewington (Smith, 79), Fraser, O’Hora, O’Riley (Davies, 79), Sorensen, Mason, Harvie, Thompson (Gladwin, 59), Sorinola (Freeman, 79), Johnson (Jerome, 59)

Subs: Fisher, Walker

Bookings: Harvie, 55 Gladwin, 69

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