Lee Johnson’s side dominated the full match, and the scoreline, no doubt, should have been more, as Sunderland had a number of opportunities to increase their advantage, with goals from Ross Stewart, Elliot Embleton and an own goal from Ben Blythe secured the three points, which moved the Black Cats to within a point of leaders, Rotherham United.
It was the complete performance that Johnson was looking for, against a Doncaster side that was low on confidence, lacking an attacking threat, and without an answer to Sunderland’s constant danger in the final third.
The Sunderland team posed three changes to the one that bowed out of the Carabao Cup with pride at the Emirates on Tuesday night - Thorben Hoffmann, Corry Evans, and Leon Dajaku all returned to the starting 11, with the injury to Nathan Broadhead proving to be one that Johnson was dreading: the striker potentially will be out for the remainder of the season.
Doncaster came into this fixture having had a two-week break, as last weekend’s match with Lincoln City followed a similar trend of postponement that has hit the EFL over recent weeks, and began this Holiday Monday clash low on confidence.
Sunderland controlled the possession charts and dominated the opening exchanges, and within the opening moments, the Black Cats were gifted an opportunity to take the lead.
Dajaku weaved his way into the penalty area, before being brought down by Branden Horton, and Bobby Madley pointed to the spot, for a penalty that Ross Stewart calmly disposed of into the bottom left corner.
The German was proving to be a dangerous outlet on the right for the Black Cats, with the Wearsiders being given time and space in possession, but it was the final touch that was proving to be evading the away side, as they tallied up a plethora of chances.
Alex Pritchard was proving instrumental and a creative force within the final third, and created his own chance, as he whipped a free-kick around the right post, before his long-range effort was palmed around the post by Louis Jones in the Doncaster goal. The home side were unable to build any sort of momentum, and ultimately reflected the issues that have them struggling for survival at the bottom of the League One table.
Sunderland exploited their weaknesses by crafting a clever set-piece routine to double their advantage. Flanagan dinked a smart ball forward to Pritchard, whose flick across the face of goal to Embleton teed up the shot for the attacking midfielder, who had the time to poke it under Jones, to give the Black Cats a two-goal advantage before the half-time interval.
A half-time change for Doncaster appeared to be making an immediate impact, as the physical threat of Omar Bogle was causing Sunderland with a number of issues in the opening minutes of the second half.
Gary McSheffrey’s side were appearing more dangerous in possession, but only five minutes into the half, the visitors extinguished any threat by adding a third in unfortunate circumstances for the hosts.
Gooch dribbled his way to the by-line, before cutting the ball back to Alex Pritchard, whose flick was carried into the back of the net through a hefty deflection from Ben Blythe. In truth, it summed up Doncaster’s worries and lack of confidence, in comparison to a Sunderland side that had momentum flowing through the ranks.
Sunderland had chances to increase their advantage too, as Dan Neil picked up the ball on the edge of the Rovers penalty are before cutting it back to Embleton, but his effort was blocked by the leg of Tommy Rowe, and only a couple of moments later the number 8 thundered a tight-angled effort against the left post.
An infrequent lapse in concentration from the Black Cats almost saw the deficit being reduced to two, as Joe Dodoo’s low ball across the face of goal was not dealt with and dropped to Branden Horton at the back post, but his shot drew a rather simple save from Thorben Hoffmann, but that was arguably the only moment of danger that Sunderland were exposed to, as they pushed for a fourth.
Soon after the away side did have the ball in the back of the net through what would have been a beautiful goal had it not been ruled out for offside. Gooch dribbled his way forward, before feeding Leon Dajaku, and the German’s pass across the goal found Hume, but rolled the ball into the bottom left corner from an offside position.
From there on in, Sunderland shifted back into second gear, and wonderfully controlled the final exchanges of the contest despite Doncaster pushing forward more frequently. The Black Cats finished the match with a three-nil win, three points, and more importantly, within the League One automatic promotion places.
And in truth, on a matchweek where Rotherham dropped points, the three points are all the more important, and the performance shouldn’t be overstated against a Doncaster side that was low on confidence and lacked any leadership both on and off the pitch.
It’s so easy to take these points for granted, but on Monday the team produced a ruthless performance, and, yes, it could have been a lot more.
But control and dominance were key to Sunderland’s success. Moving into a tough match on Thursday with Sheffield Wednesday is one that is, no doubt, going to be tough, but at the moment, Sunderland shouldn’t be fearing anyone.
Sunderland’s target of promotion is progressing well and, while there’s still a long way to go if Monday is anything to go by, it’s going to be an enjoyable second half to the season.