Sunderland pile the pressure on League One rivals with thumping win as Jack Ross changes pay off in style
Sunderland piled the pressure on their League One rivals with an excellent performance at Accrington Stanley.
The Black Cats are now just three points behind Barnsley with two games in hand after winning 3-0 at the Wham Stadium.
Aiden McGeady, Will Grigg and Kazaiah Sterling were on the scoresheet as a bold selection from Jack Ross paid off in an enterprising performance.
Sunderland's players had vowed after their Wembley heartbreak to bounce back starting Wednesday and Ross said he sensed a determination ahead of this game.
It always looked a testing game, against a side who had caused the Black Cats problems this season and on a pitch that was playable but nothing more.
Ross freshened it up with five changes, the likes of Charlie Wyke and Dylan McGeouch given a rare start.
It paid off right from the first whistle, Sunderland not just moving the ball well but winning every second ball.
They had the lead within minutes, Wyke keeping the ball alive and finding the advancing Tom Flanagan, who moved it to the left where Aiden McGeady was waiting.
The Irishman took one touch and then another, sizing up the target. It was another memorable goal, arrowed into the top corner and leaving Dimitar Evtimov with no chance.
They maintained that early dominance, Will Grigg seeing a deflected effort just cleared off the line by Mark Hughes.
McGeady went close to a second just before the half hour mark when McGeouch, who had been superb in central midfield, played in Denver Hume down the left. His cutback from the flank was good, McGeady taking a touch before shooting just wide.
Accrington Stanley had played their way back into the game a touch by this point, Paul Smyth their main threat with his pace on the counter attack.
He won a foul in a dangerous area as Luke O'Nien was caught out of position, but Sean McConville's effort was poor.
The Black Cats continued to create the better openings and hit the woodwork shortly before the break. McGeouch had done well to break into space but looked to be in trouble as three Accrington defenders closed him down. His response was sublime, twisting away and playing a ball over the top for Lynden Gooch to race onto, the forward chipping Evtimov but seeing his effort hit the post.
The second did come before the interval and it was a move that started with another threatening run from Smyth. But Jon McLaughlin had done superbly to spot the danger, racing off his line to send a through ball back through the middle of the pitch. Accrington were caught out, and Grigg took a touch before firing through the legs of Evtimov on his weaker foot.
The home side had been insipid, and John Coleman acted swiftly at the break, making two changes and switching to a 4-4-2 to match Sunderland.
Ross made a change of his own, replacing McGeady with Lewis Morgan.
Accrington started superbly, Jack Baldwin making an outstanding block to deny substitute Erico Sousa as he struck a sweet half volley in the box.
The danger was never cleared and McLaughlin had to do well to deny Smyth soon after.
Accrington were playing with a significantly improved tempo but that left space on the break and Wyke almost capitalised, turning his marker and driving into the box before firing over under pressure.
It was an open game and the impressive Hume was given a let-off when he gave the ball away cheaply, Sousa running clear but turning wide.
Unaffected by that lapse the youngster drove towards goal and fired in a wonderful cross. Wyke turning his header just inches wide of the far post.
The striker had been superb and the Sunderland fans responded by chanting his name throughout the second half.
But that goal just evaded him, again spurning a good chance as he broke free on the counter, shooting wide with attackers making runs into the box.
The frustration for Sunderland lasted just seconds, Sunderland again breaking free on the counter.
This time Morgan unselfishly played the ball across goal, teeing up fellow substitute Kazaiah Sterling for his first senior goal.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; O'Nien, Flanagan, Baldwin, Hume; Gooch, McGeouch, Power, McGeady (Morgan, 45); Wyke, Grigg (Sterling, 70)
Subs: Ruiter, Oviedo, Ozturk, Dunne
Accrington XI: Evtimov; Johnson, Sykes, Hughes, Richards-Everton (Barlaser, 45) Donacien; Finley (Brown, 83), McConville, Conneely (Sousa, 45); Kee, Smyth
Subs: Maxted, Brown, Wood, Rodgers, Armstrong
Bookings: Richards-Everton, 14 O'Nien, 29 Finley, 31 Wyke, 62 Hughes, 74 Kee, 86
Attendance: 3,802 (1,608 away)