As the British Isles was hit by the most intense September storm for over twenty years Martin O'Neill's men made the trip to Milton Keynes, along with an incredible travelling support of around 2,500, to face Karl Robinson's men where the home crowd were hoping to see their side add a third Premier League scalp to their collection of Norwich and Blackpool whom they have defeated in this very competition over the last couple of years.
Before kick-off a few eyebrows were raised when the Sunderland starting eleven was announced with the main talking point surrounding David Meyler's inclusion. Not that that would have come as much of a surprise in itself but the fact that Meyler was installed as a central defender certainly took the SAFC fans by surprise. In fact Sunderland travelled with barely a defender in tow as both John O'Shea and Titus Bramble were left in the rain-ravaged North East.
Elsewhere there was a starting position for Keiren Westwood between the sticks, Craig Gardner and Danny Rose retained their fullback slots and there was also an opportunity for first team action for Matthew Kilgallon. In the middle of the park David Vaughan returned to first team action replacing Sebastian Larsson and he was joined by the familiar faces of the skipper Lee Cattermole, Jack Colback and James Mcclean. In the final third Stephane Sessegnon was given another chance to blow off some cobwebs and Steven Fletcher was granted some time on the bench while Louis Saha was given the nod.
There was a surprise inclusion on the bench for Fraizer Campbell for whom there had been some injury concerns surrounding a fairly serious foot injury he sustained at the weekend. Adam Johnson was also deemed fit enough to be included as a substitute alongside Simon Mignolet, Connor Wickham, Ji Dong-Won, Steven Fletcher and John Egan.
The most recognisible names in the Milton Keynes lineup were undoubtedly ex-Manchester United men Luke Chadwick and Alan Smith, with Smith reprising his forward role of old.
The first half was an even encounter with Danny Rose showing some early enterprise for the away team, with his pace allowing him to recover possession and also galloping down the wing and swinging in a cross which was just over hit to Saha in the penalty area.
The first half-chance of the game fell to Stephane Sessegnon who collected a Keiren Westwood freekick from deep before firing in an effort on goal which was straight at Ian McLoughlin, providing him with no real concerns. It was a slow opening fifteen minutes however as both sides struggled to really put together any real attacking moves of note.
In the eighteenth minute however the game came to life as McClean finally showed this term what we all know he is capable of as he surged down the wing, beating three men with ease before arching a ball across the area into the path of Saha who hammered his shot on target only to have his effort cleverly beaten away by the MK Dons keeper McLoughlin. Easily the best move of the first half. The French striker would again come close with a curling effort minutes later which was always just swinging wide of the post.
The home side responded however with a cleverly worked move from the training ground as a corner routine found Stephen Gleeson on the edge of the area who fired in a decent effort which just floated wide of Keiren Westwood's goal.
Matt Kilgallon saw the headlines on the twenty-fifth minute when he managed to dink a ball over an oncoming dons player before meeting the dropping ball with an outrageous strike, thirty-five yards out from goal which flew into the top corner... well not quite as the ball sailed wide of the target. Unlucky Matt, maybe you'll find have more luck when FIFA '13 is released on Friday.
Sunderland fans were out of their seats minutes later appealing for a penalty kick when Danny Rose burst past his man with ease and went down under pressure from the MK Dons defence. Both the referee and his assistant failed to award a spot kick and play continued, to be fair Rose made no appeal so it would seem a correct decision had been made.
The officials were called into action once more on the half hour when Lee Cattermole surged forward with the ball. What originally seemed to be the beginnings of a positive, attacking move from the away side ended abruptly when the Sunderland skipper lost control of the ball and lunged in on on-coming Adam Chicksen in an attempt to win back possession. The referee had no hesitation in reaching for his back pocket and the captain seemed to have no complaints as he trudged off the field. A further blot to his copy book and even further ammunition for the press to continue with their judgement of a lad who looked to have put his disciplinary problems behind him - very disappointing.
Sunderland were forced to shake things up following Cattermole's dismissal as Sessegnon moved to the left side of midfield and McClean took up a slot on the right as the first half rather petered out following the red card.
The second half exploded into life after around seven minutes from the restart when Craig Gardner dug his captain out of the mire with a signature set-piece very reminiscent of his effort at Wigan last term as her fired a freekick which swerved from left to right into the top right hand corner leaving Loughlin rooted to the spot - a superb effort from our Player of the Month.
With an hour gone The Dons fired a warning shot narrowly above Keiren Westwood's crossbar as Luke Chadwick feeds a ball into the feet of Alan Smith who held the ball up well before getting a shot away. The home side acted quickly having sensed a chance to get back into the game and went for broke replacing Smith and Chadwick with two forwards MacDonald and Lowe in a bid to get back into the game.
Sunderland came close to doubling the away side's lead as McClean took over setpiece duties from Craig Gardner and fired his effort low and hard into the side netting.
The MK Dons made their third and final, attacking, substitution as Jay O'Shea was brought into the fray although it was to make little difference as the home side were unable to break into Sunderland's penalty area and were restricted to half chances from distance.
The Dons' tactical tweaks were to be in vain however as on eighty-two minutes James McClean combined with Danny Rose before dribbling his way into the area and drilling an effort low into the bottom corner to put the game beyond doubt for the travelling ten men.
There was even an opportunity for Adam Johnson to get some minutes under his belt as he replaced Stephane Sessegnon, another player who will have benefited from the run out in a bid to get back up to speed for the league campaign.
Predictably the home side came on strong in the remaining minutes trying to force a way back into the game but Sunderland were able to stand firm and see out a professional performance which was all the more admirable given the circumstances following a bad day at the office from the skipper.