Sunderland confirmed their progression to the knockout stages of the EFL Trophy, after beating Carlisle United 5-3 in a thriller at the Stadium of Light.
Lewis Alessandra had given the Cumbrians the lead after six minutes, before a brace from Chris Maguire and goals from Denver Hume and Charlie Wyke put the Black Cats into a four-one lead.
This was before two goals from Jon Mellish made the final stages nervy for the hosts, but a first goal for Jack Diamond sealed the victory and a route through to the second round.
Only three of the starting eleven that drew 0-0 against Charlton Athletic on Saturday afternoon kept their places for Sunderland’s second EFL Trophy group stage match.
Luke O’Nien and Denver Hume both started against Carlisle United, with Bailey Wright also hoping to continue his excellent defensive record for the Black Cats.
Parkinson gave chances to youngsters Dan Neil and Jack Diamond, who both looked to get onto the score sheet. Furthermore, Max Power and Chris Maguire both returned from injury, with Dobson playing his first match since suspension.
First Half Action
In a game where a win would all-but-secure progression to the next stage, Sunderland created the first opportunity of the game when Max Power’s shot from the right was aimed into the gloves of the Carlisle goalkeeper.
Despite creating the first chance, Carlisle were gifted with a clear opportunity to give themselves the opener when Ethan Walker ushered the ball around Remi Matthews, but the Sunderland goalkeeper brought the Carlisle midfielder down, and the referee - Bobby Madley - pointed to the spot.
From the resulting penalty, the visitors took an early lead when Lewis Alessandra arrowed the ball into the bottom left corner of the Sunderland net.
Shortly after, Carlisle almost doubled their advantage when Max Hunt’s header from a corner was clawed off the line by Chris Maguire, to deny the Carlisle centre-back their first goal of the season.
Sunderland reacted very well and almost found the equaliser when Jack Diamond whipped the ball into the penalty area where it found Max Power, whose right-footed volley from inside of the penalty area was aimed just wide of the right post.
The Black Cats eventually found their leveller when Chris Maguire’s free-kick from the right-hand side was deflected off the wall and completely wrong-footed the goalkeeper - allowing the ball to bounce into the bottom left corner.
One goal was then followed by another as Sunderland turned the group stage match on its head when Maguire turned from scorer to provider as he slotted the ball through to Denver Hume, who calmly tucked it underneath the Carlisle goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
With the first half coming to an end, at the half time interval, the score was Sunderland AFC 2-1 Carlisle United.
Second Half Action
Less than ten minutes into the second half, the hosts were able to double their advantage when Chris Maguire added his name onto the score sheet for a second time, when Wyke’s flick-on found the Scotsman, who was able to effortlessly feed the ball into the bottom right corner.
The Sunderland attacker almost had himself a hat-trick when Luke O’Nien’s cross into the penalty area was met by the head of Chris Maguire, but his header was directed just wide of the right post.
Sunderland did eventually make it four-one when Maguire’s shot from just under 25 yards out on the left-hand side was looking like it was heading directly into the gloves of the goalkeeper, but he spilled it with Wyke reacting the quickest to tap the ball into the bottom right corner.
Only three minutes later, the visitors cut the deficit through Sunderland’s first goal that they have conceded from open play when a corner from the left was met at the front post by Jon Mellish, who was able to side-foot the ball through a bundle of Sunderland players and past Remi Matthews.
With 15 minutes of normal time remaining, Phil Parkinson made his first two changes with Aiden O’Brien and Danny Graham both replacing Dan Neil and Charlie Wyke.
Carlisle almost halved Sunderland’s advantage when Lewis Alessandra’s shot from just outside of the penalty area was palmed away by the Sunderland goalkeeper, Remi Matthews.
Not long after, the visitors did half Sunderland’s advantage when Lewis Alessandra played the ball into the penalty area, where Jon Mellish stretched to reach it and his first-time touch fired it into the roof of the Sunderland net.
Late on in the 90 minutes, Jordan Willis was brought on by the Black Cats as some defensive cover during the final moments of the game with Brandon Taylor being removed.
In injury time, Jack Diamond cooled the nerves of some Sunderland fans by netting a fifth to put the game beyond Carlisle’s reach. Graham held the ball up well inside of the penalty area and fed Diamond, before he hammered it into the top right corner.
After four minutes of injury time, the match ended Sunderland AFC 5-3 Carlisle United.
Over the past three seasons, the EFL Trophy has brought up some highs and lows for the Black Cats. Last season’s defeats at home to Leicester City’s under-21’s and away to Scunthorpe United was probably the lowest that the Black Cats dropped to in the controversial campaign that has resulted in the EFL Trophy final still not being played at Wembley between Portsmouth and Salford.
In Sunderland’s first season in League One, the Black Cats were naive to the issues that the EFL Trophy provided to the side - causing fatigue and a long route to Wembley, which ended in heartbreak.
This season it could be argued that with Sunderland’s squad depth, they could give the EFL Trophy a shot, but League One must come at the fore-front of the priorities.
Tuesday night provided the manager to gain some match minutes from the players that have been stuck on the sidelines for the past couple of games. It also provided a chance for the youngsters to show their metal and potentially squeeze their way into Parkinson’s main 11.
After giving away a penalty within the opening five minutes, the players showed strength and character to spring themselves level, albeit with a deflection, but goals kept flowing in the EFL Trophy for the Black Cats.
After Saturday’s goalless draw and the lack of goals in the past couple of weeks, netting five in one game should be praised.
The goal from Charlie Wyke should put a spring in his step and provide some confidence for him heading into a long break without League One action. The criticism for the striker over recent times wouldn’t have helped this, but scoring goals breeds confidence and although it wasn’t the prettiest, it should help him massively.
In 10 days time, Sunderland return to action as they face newly-promoted Swindon Town at The County Ground, hoping for three points to continue their unbeaten run in League One.
The break caused by the postponement of Saturday’s match against Blackpool will help the side to prepare well and gain more fitness ahead of the next match.
For the first time since February 1999, Swindon will face the Black Cats - making the game of a greater importance for the hosts, but hopefully, we will be able to continue to be defensively solid in the league and claim the vital three points.