Inside the most remarkable afternoon of the season as Lee Johnson's reshuffled Sunderland produce a stunning display

So then, when was the last time you had quite this much fun watching Sunderland?

Saturday, 13th February 2021, 5:28 pm

Not since the 4-2 defeat of Barnsley in November 2018 did the Black Cats take on a strong opponent with such ambition, aggression and tempo.

That this was such an open, absorbing content undoubtedly reflected the fact that the visitors had their moments, but Lee Johnson's side were more than deserving winners.

With an aggressive press and intent in possession, this was the football Johnson has promised.

Charlie Wyke scores his hat-trick goal

At the heart of it was a quite remarkable combination.

Four times Aiden McGeady found Charlie Wyke, and four times the centre-forward found the back of the net; he is now the first striker since Darren Bent to score 20 goals across all competitions in a single season for the Black Cats.

After the low of that woeful second half against Shrewsbury Town, 'back to basics' had been a phrase used regularly in Johnson's pre-match press conference on Thursday.

He had also talked of putting 'round pegs in round holes' and a switch to 4-3-3, with Max Power at the base of midfield and Conor McLaughlin back from injury, represented exactly that.

Sunderland were a threat from the start, though the opening strike came from a set piece as McGeady landed his corner in exactly the right spot.

That quality of delivery though, set the tone for what would follow.

The switch in formation allowed McGeady something of a free role and it was one he relished.

He beat his full back on the inside, the outside, and picked apart the centre-halves when regularly dropping deep to dictate the play.

A vibrant first-half display did without a doubt owe much to a lack of composure on Doncaster's part.

At 2-0 down they missed a glorious chance to score when Jon Taylor was left free at the back post, but it was to the home side's credit that even when the game was still in the balance, they continued to threaten.

Wyke looked a yard offside when he secured his hat-trick on the half-hour mark, but such was McGeady's excellence they could have had more before the break.

There was no drop off in intensity in the second, McGeady setting the tone by clattering into a challenge and winning a second ball just seconds after the restart.

That the contest ended up being nervier than expected for a short while owed more to bad luck and bad refereeing than anything else.

Johnson had recalled Lee Burge to the XI and the goalkeeper was unlucky to see an effort from Taylor Richards strike the post before rebounding off him and in.

Sunderland's response was immediate, McGeady again finding Wyke in the box.

Doncaster had a chance to reduce the deficit again to two when Luke O'Nien was bizarrely adjudged to have handled the ball in the box, but Burge made a superb save with his trailing leg to deny Taylor.

From there the home side were able to regain some control, finishing strongly in what was their most complete performance in recent memory.

A slack foul from Callum McFadzean gave the visitors another chance at a consolation goal, but Burge again stood tall to this time deny Lokilo.

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus will have liked what he saw here.

Sunderland XI: Burge; McLaughlin (Leadbitter, 61), Sanderson, Wright, McFadzean; Power, Scowen, O’Nien (Diamond, 75); Gooch (O’Brien, 76), McGeady (Jones, 81), Wyke

Subs: Matthews, Vokins, Neil

Doncaster XI: Balcombe; Halliday, Wright, Butler, John (Sims, 54); Smith, Richards (Robertson, 71); Taylor (Lokilo, 71), Gomes (Bostock, 45) , James; Bogle

Subs: Jones, Okenabirhie, Greaves

Bookings: O’Nien, 44

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