What happened and who impressed as Sunderland seal important win over MK Dons
Sunderland came through a late rally from MK Dons to seal three valuable points at the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats had dominated the first hour and should have had more than their two-goal lead, before some poor defending allowed the away side a lifeline.
It made for a nervy final part of the game but Sunderland defended well enough to get over the line.
It marked a strong week for the Black Cats, who responded well to the acrimonious afternoon at Bolton Wanderers to significantly improve the mood on Wearside.
Pre-match Jack Ross had warned that MK Dons would pose a very different challenge to the one his side had faced at Bramall Lane, where they had enjoyed the opportunity to sit off and soak up pressure at times.
As expected, the away side defended deep and in numbers, content to pick their moments to play forward and break.
Sunderland almost got off to an outstanding start when Max Power played an early abll over the top, indecisipn between the goalkeeper and his defence allowing Charlie Wyke to get his shot away, his effort blocked by Lee Nicholls.
The Black Cats continued to look for that early ball into space, particularly with Aiden McGeady’s injury seeing Chris Maguire move out wide and the energetic Luke O’Nien retain his position just off the main striker.
In truth, they struggled to create concrete openings, though a defence that again featured Joel Lynch and Laurens De Bock was again providing real stability at the other end.
It took a moment of stunning individual quality to break the deadlock, and from there Sunderland quijcly went through the gears.
There looked to be little threat when Wyke gathered the ball near the touchline, playing a pass into the edge of the area. Running across goal, Power unleashed an outstanding strike, firing first time into the far corner and leaving Nicholls with no chance.
MK Dons were rocked and the home side quickly turned the screw.
Growing into the game, O’Nien thumped a header off the post after a precise cross from the onrushing De Bock.
He then drew a good save from Nicholls after finding himself free to head at goal from a corner.
Sunderland were dominant, again driving into a dangerous position as Nicholls played a pass straight into the feet of Power 40 yards out. He advanced and played a one-two with Wyke, his effort deflected wide from the edge of the area.
The second goal deservedly came when that early ball over the top paid off, this time from Conor McLaughlin. Nicholls was too slow to come off his line and O’Nien did superbly, chipping the ball towards the far post. Regan Poole thought he had got back in time to head off the line, but the linesman flagged for a goal.
It should have been three before the half hour mark, Lynden Gooch pouncing on a loose pass across goal and firing wide on his weaker left foot.
MK Dons were struggling to make any impression on the game, though Jon McLaughlin had to be alert to get down at his near post and turn a low drive from Alex Gibley wide.
Sunderland felt their opponents should have been reduced to ten after an off-the-ball incident between Max Power and substitute David Kasumu.
The Black Cats broke and Chris Maguire fired just over the bar, the referee coming back and booking both players.
It was a deserved lead at the interval, and Sunderland started the second half in much the same fashion, Power drawing a good save from Nicholls after a promising move fell to him on the edge of the area.
It was an encouraging start to an important period but the deficit was reduced with some poor defending, McLaughlin unable to deal with a cross from Kasumu and allowing Jordan Bowery to bundle over the line.
From nowhere the visitors had a spring in their step, Kasumu shooting over after gathering a loose ball from a corner.
Sunderland responded well, O’Nien cleverly gathering the ball on the byline and cutting back from Maguire, whose firm effort flashed just wide.
With the advantage slender, MK Dons began to push forward, seeing more of the ball and territory as Kasumu fired another speculative effort over the bar.
Though they continued to threatened, McLaughlin was rarely troubled again as Sunderland made it through six minutes of stoppage time to secure an important win.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; McLaughlin, Willis, Lynch, De Bock (Hume, 63), Gooch (Dobson, 90), McGeouch, Power, Maguire; O’Nien, Wyke (Grigg, 80)
Subs: Burge, Ozturk, Flanagan, Leadbitter
MK Dons XI: Nicholls, Williams, Lewington, Poole, Gilbey (Boateng, 77), Bowery (Agard, 60), Martin, McGrandles, Houghton (Kasumu, 34), Brittain, Nombe
Subs: Dickenson, Moore-Taylor, Moore, Harley
Bookings: O’Nien, 13 Kasumu, 45 Power, 45 Maguire, 51 Martin, 65 Lewington, 90