How Sunderland battled through a remarkable, open clash at MK Dons to seal a crucial win
Football really is back.
And so are Sunderland.
In front of a raucous travelling support the Black Cats came through a frenetic, nerve-shredding encounter to seal their second win of the campaign at MK Dons.
It was a game that the hosts will feel they ought to have got something out of, given their raft of second-half chances and generally good play.
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And yet it was also one that the Black Cats should never have let them into, with a defensive error and a penalty miss in their eventual 2-1 win.
It was Ross Stewart again on the scoresheet, with a fine finish from Elliot Embleton ultimately securing the points.
Though MK Dons had endured a difficult start to the campaign as Russell Martin left for Swansea City, a strong end to the last season and an impressive summer window meant that this was always going to be a challenging opening away day for the Black Cats.
Perhaps not so much in the traditional League One manner, MK Dons firm in their commitment to play out from the back.
Sunderland did start brightly, forging the first chance amid a flurry of early corners. A short one was pulled to the edge of the area, where Lynden Gooch cut inside and strung Andrew Fisher’s palms with a firm effort.
The Black Cats looked in the groove, but the home side slowly began to assert a reasonable level of control.
With three centre-backs comfortable in possession, they regularly created overlaps on the flanks that pulled the visiting defence out of position.
Tom Flanagan had to be alert to cut out a good low cross from the left, and Tottenham Hotspur loanee Troy Parrott perhaps shoud have done better from the corner that followed, unable to make a strong connection as he met the dipping cross at the back post.
Johnson’s preparations had been hit by an illness to Luke O’Nien, meaning that Dennis Cirkin was handed a full debut ahead of schedule.
He coped well enough throigh the opening exchanges, though the visitors were fortunate just before the half-hour mark when MK Dons worked an pening on the left. Harvie crossed for his fellow wing-back Tennai Watson, who made a good late run into the box. He met the ball on the half volley, but his effort was wild and sliced well clear of Burge in the Sunderland goal.
The Black Cats were not keeping possession well enough, but they did forge half an opening when a good move saw Gooch cross for Stewart, whose diving header was comfortably palmed clear of danger by Fisher.
An entertaining game was spun then spun on its head within five minutes of the interval.
MK Dons looked certain to score when Scott Twine was sprung clear by a wonderful chipped pass from Matt O’Riley. Twine beat Burge to the ball as he raced off his line, but could only turn his volley wide of the post.
The Black Cats sprung up the other end, McGeady firing in a low cross to the heart of the box. Fisher should have dealt with it, but could fumble the ball into the path of Stewart, who converted from a matter of yards to give his side a valuable lead at the break.
MK Dons looked to have recovered well in the opening stages of the second half, but were caught out when Johnson’s side doubled their advantage.
Gooch’s cross from the right flank was blocked, but Neil was alert to recycle possession. His irst attempt at a pass was blocked, but his second cut the home defence open. They paused to wait for an offside flag that never came and Embleton’s composure was superb, waiting for Fisher to go to ground before dinking his effort over him and into the net.
It was a major advantage for the visitors, but within minutes they had let their opposition back into the game.
The danger looked to have passed when Burge comfortably saved a back-post header, but his throw out from the back had too much on it for Neil.
Ethan Robson pounced on the loose ball and quickly fed Parrott, whose finish into the top corner was excellent.
Sunderland were on the ropes, Burge doing well to deny Eisa as he found space in the box shortly afterwards. The hosts went even closer when Parrott was again sprung into space, Burge this time scrambling back to palm the attempted lob over the bar.
The Black Cats were penned in on the edge of their own area, unable to build any spell of possession away from their own goal.
They should nevertheless have settled the contest with just over ten to play, substitute Pritchard firing into the side netting after an excellent flick-on from Stewart.
The Scot looked to have secured the points for his side with another excellent piece of forward play, tripped after making an arcing run to meet Neil’s chipped pass. The referee pointed to the spot, but Fisher guessed correctly and denied Gooch low to his left.
Sunderland actually had the better of the late chances, Stewart firing just wide before seven minutes of added time passed with plenty of tension but little meaningful action.
MK Dons XI: Fisher; Darling, O’Hara, Jules; Watson (Martin, 87), O’Riley, Twine (Boateng, 85), Robson, Harvie; Eisa (McEachran, 74), Parrott
Subs: Ravizzoli, Lewington, Brown, Baldwin
Sunderland XI: Burge; Winchester, Flanagan, Doyle, Cirkin (Wright, 72); Evans (Pritchard, 61), Neil; Gooch, Embleton, McGeady (O’Brien, 72); Stewart
Subs: Patterson, Taylor, Diamond, Hawkes
Bookings: Jules, 47 Stewart, 50 Gooch, 72 Flanagan, 78 Embleton, 90
Attendance: 9, 830 (2, 930 away)