Braces from Lynden Gooch and Josh Maja secured a dominant home win for Sunderland against Rochdale.
The comfortable victory at the Stadium of Light lifted Sunderland back into third-place in League One.
Maja’s outstanding finishes and Gooch’s penalty gave Sunderland a platform to dominate after struggling for the opening half-hour, with Gooch adding a fourth in the second half.
Matt Done managed a consolation goal for Rochdale 20 minutes from full-time, but Sunderland were never in danger, cruising to an easy win.
After a promising opening first 15 minutes at the Stadium of Light sloppiness crept into Sunderland’s game giving confidence to the visitors.
Halfway through the first half Sunderland were nearly punished for their lapse approach - Aaron Wilbraham squandering the first clear chance of the contest. The former Crystal Palace man got his angles wrong trying to curl into the far corner from 18 yards.
Sunderland’s opener came after great work from the game’s outstanding player, Maguire. He hung-up the perfect cross for Maja to glance into the far corner from close-range.
Gooch doubled the lads’ lead just before half-time picking himself up from the deck to convert a penalty he won. The 22-year-old was hacked from behind before he could latch onto Maja’s weighted pass. Josh Lillis guessed correctly but was beaten by the pace and accuracy of Gooch’s pen.
Rochdale nearly halved the deficit before half-time but Jon McLaughlin saved brilliantly to parry away Sam Hart’s free-kick. Our stopper was relatively unsighted as Hart shot through the Sunderland wall, but McLaughlin got two strong hands behind the strike to parry away from danger.
Maja smashed home a third Sunderland goal in just eight minutes to give the Black Cats substantial breathing room. The 19-year-old’s exceptional first touch from Denver Hume’s low cross created the space for his emphatic near-post drive.
Sunderland were poor from the re-start, nearly getting punished from a Dale corner. First McLaughlin blocked away Calvin Andrew’s close range strike. His second save 20 seconds later was spectacular as he acrobatically parried Ian Henderson’s looping header over. Sunderland survived yet another scare from set-pieces.
Gooch added a brilliant fourth, breaking into the Dale area and letting fly on his left foot, the strike flew beyond Lillis into far corner.
The Dale bagged a consolation through Done, who finished a smart move down Sunderland’s left, tapping in a low cross from close-range.
Jon McLaughlin, 8/10: Made two excellent saves continuing his return to form.
Tom Flanagan, 8/10: Sunderland’s most impressive defender on his first league start for the lads.
Glenn Loovens, 5/10: Put Sunderland under pressure in the first-half with his idiotic decision making, struggled to get to grips with the pace of the game.
Jack Baldwin, 7/10: Another secure performance from our leading defender.
Denver Hume, 7/10: Impressive performance from the youngster.
Lee Cattermole, 7/10: Controlled the game well in the middle of the park.
Dylan McGeouch, 6/10: Great in possession, but he looked fragile and lightweight out of it.
George Honeyman, 6/10: Sunderland’s quietest attacker.
Lynden Gooch, 8/10: A brilliant return to form capped by his outstanding second goal.
Chris Maguire, 8/10: The one Sunderland player who was excellent throughout - found space all over the pitch, linked play superby and provided a cutting edge to our attacking play.
Josh Maja, 8/10: Two brilliant finishes - unlucky not to complete a first career hattrick in the second-half.
(SUB) Jerome Sinclair, 6/10: Came on with game already won.
(SUB) Aiden McGeady, 6/10: Got a late run-out as he works his way way back to full fitness.
(SUB) Brian Oviedo, 6/10: Came on too late to impact the game.
Man of the Match: Chris Maguire.