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Finlay’s Report: Who is at fault for Sunderland’s loss to MK Dons?

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Sunderland lost to an MK Dons side today who hadn’t won away from home since September 2019. Who was to blame for the latest embarrassing defeat?

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

MK Dons have ended their 14-month winless run away from home as they claimed a remarkable 2-1 win against Sunderland AFC at the Stadium of Light.

In two successive weeks, both Sunderland have allowed Mansfield and MK Dons to end their winless runs, as pressure begins to mount on Phil Parkinson.

Goals from Cameron Jerome and a penalty from Scott Fraser gave Russell Martin’s side the three points, after Max Power’s 12th minute strike had placed the Black Cats into the lead.


The Team...

The Sunderland manager made ten changes to the side that lost 2-1 at Highbury against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday night in the Papa John’s Trophy. Jordan Willis was the only player to keep his place, with Remi Matthews making his league debut in goal for the Black Cats. For one of the first games this season, Parkinson began two out-and-out strikers, with Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke both leading the line. Lynden Gooch, Luke O’Nien, Josh Scowen and Denver Hume all returned to the side after missing the last two games, including the Black Cats’ FA Cup defeat to Mansfield.

Sunderland v Mansfield Town: Emirates FA Cup First Round Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

First Half Action

MK Dons created the first opportunity of the game when a short corner found its way to Scott Fraser, who clipped the ball goal-bound. Dean Lewington tried to apply more power to the effort, but his header rose just over the bar.

Despite lots of MK Dons pressure in the opening ten minutes, it was the hosts who took the lead when Gooch’s cross from the right was partially cleared by the visitors, but only to Max Power. Power was positioned just inside of the penalty area, and a slight deflected wrong-footed the goalkeeper, with Power’s attempt bouncing into the back of the net.

Sunderland were only able to keep hold of their lead for just under five minutes when a Ben Gladwin free-kick from the left was hovered into the penalty area, and Cameron Jerome glanced the ball goal wards and his header looped over the goalkeeper, Remi Matthews, and into the far post.

The Black Cats’ frustrations at dropping the lead needed to be kept intact, with these emotions expressed when Gooch’s long-range left-footed shot being driven metres over the angle between bar and post.

With no side taking their opportunities at the end of the first half, both teams went into the break level, with a Cameron Jerome header cancelling out Max Power’s early strike.

Half Time - Sunderland AFC 1-1 MK Dons

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Second Half Action

The second half begun in the worst possible start for the Black Cats, when within under a minute, the away side were given a penalty. Sunderland were unable to clear their lines, and when Power tried to launch the ball up the pitch, he caught Scott Fraser, who claimed a penalty. The referee deemed the incident to be a spot-kick, with Fraser taking the penalty himself.

MK Dons did convert the penalty when the midfielder slid the ball into the bottom right corner - sending the goalkeeper, Remi Matthews, the wrong way.

Sunderland were provided with a clear golden opportunity to equalise when Gooch slotted a ball across the face of goal, where Will Grigg was waiting. The ball rolled past the MK Dons goalkeeper and Grigg was provided with an open goal to tap it into, but his connection was weak and it rolled past the left post.

Only a couple of moments later, the home side made their first change of the afternoon when Chris Maguire was brought into proceedings with goal scorer, Max Power, being replaced.

As the clock was ticking down, the chances that Sunderland were going to have slowly began to dwindle with Hume’s side-footed effort from Gooch’s cross from the right was aimed wide of the right post.

Phil Parkinson used his second substitution in order to apply another attacking threat to the MK Dons backline, with Danny Graham coming on for Will Grigg, who failed to get onto the score sheet yet again.

The home side came closer to an equaliser when Wyke laid the ball off for Denver Hume, who arrowed a low shot towards the MK Dons goal, but the legs of Andrew Fisher blocked the Black Cats from making the score line two-all.

The final roll of the dice from Phil Parkinson saw Jack Diamond come on for the hosts, with defender, Jordan Willis, being removed from play at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland weren’t able to create another clear-cut opportunity, so the Black Cats missed an ideal opportunity to climb the League One table, as the points travelled back down south with MK Dons.

Full Time - Sunderland AFC 1-2 MK Dons

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict....

On Saturday afternoon, an eerie silence filled the Sunderland city centre.

After Friday’s optimistic news that the takeover of the club was close, the area would have been bouncing, with everyone ready for a change in ownership at the club.

Meanwhile, at 5pm, prospective owner, Kyril Lewis-Drayfus, would have been disappointed, as the emotion of positivity was juxtaposed with the disappointed feeling after Sunderland fell to a third successive defeat. So, what do you think went wrong?

Was it the formation? Was it the style of play? Or was it the personnel?

Before kick-off, the idea of watching both Wyke and Grigg play up front together in the league was exciting, but it didn’t live up to the expectation, as the lack of opportunities meant that they didn’t really have the chances to convert. But, when the chances did come, especially for Grigg, the goal scoring touch wasn’t there.

Another aspect of the performance that didn’t quite impress the fans was the fact that MK Dons looked like the better team, in comparison to the Black Cats. The league position of 19th before kick-off didn’t quite tell the full story of their game style.

Due to the lack of Tom Flanagan and Conor McLaughlin from the squad, it is meant that Parkinson had to play players out of position, but a specific formation wasn’t really clear from the match action.

Gooch was wanting to push onto his more attacking role, and not defensive position. If this was the case, the question lies at why did Parkinson not play four at the back with only two midfielders? On the other hand, O’Nien could have played at his usual right wing-back position, and Dion Sanderson slotting in his centre-back role.

Sunderland have a week’s rest in order to prepare and bounce back yet again as we face the stern test of Doncaster Rovers. Darren Moore’s side have performed well against the top teams this season, so will provide a major challenge for Parkinson’s team.

Changes will most likely be made again with the Northern Ireland internationals coming back from national duty, and the repercussions of Saturday’s defeat bouncing back onto his team selection.

For another week, fans will go into a League One game, wondering what the team is going to be and what is going to happen as a result of Saturday’s defeat. Hopefully we can get back to winning ways and claim three points to create some momentum.