Sunderland are one match away from a third Wembley final in the last three seasons, after a 3-0 victory against MK Dons on Tuesday evening in the quarter-finals of the Papa John’s Trophy.
An own goal from Dean Lewington set the Black Cats on their way, with second-half goals from substitutes Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke booking Sunderland’s place in the semi-finals.
Jordan Jones made his full Sunderland debut as Lee Johnson made four changes to the team that drew 2-2 against Gillingham on Saturday afternoon.
Luke O’Nien made his first start since his return from injury as he partnered Josh Scowen in the centre of midfield. Lynden Gooch replaced Charlie Wyke in attack, as McGeady dropped to the bench for Jones. Also, Remi Matthews came in for Lee Burge in between the sticks, as Tom Flanagan continued to partner Jordan Willis in the heart of defence.
First Half Action
Sunderland enjoyed large spells of possession during the opening stages of the match and the tone was set early on as Diamond’s teasing cross from the right pin-pointed Gooch, who was unable to fully connect with the ball as it dropped away from danger for the hosts.
A rather fortuitous opening did present itself less than ten minutes later as the Black Cats opened the Dons defence up with a swift counter-attack. Gooch fed the ball to Diamond, who carried it into the right-hand side of the penalty area, with his cut-back deflecting off the leg of Lewington and cut into the bottom right corner.
MK Dons began to find their feet, being one-goal behind, with Joe Mason’s shot being carelessly arrowed into the gloves of Remi Matthews, who made a low save to his left.
Lee Johnson was forced into an early substitution, with Callum McFadzean being unable to carry on with a reoccurring injury, as Dan Neil replaced the defender, with O’Nien moving into the left-back role, and Neil being placed into the centre of midfield.
The home side possessed a threat on their attacks, with the Black Cats being grateful for the presence of Luke O’Nien, as Lewis Johnson was slotted through the Sunderland backline and into the penalty area. He opted to try and square the ball to Scott Fraser, but O’Nien blocked the pass, before Fraser could have tapped it into an empty Sunderland net.
Half Time - MK Dons 0-1 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
Russell Martin’s side were desperate to level the cup tie during the second half, and Sorinola’s shot from the left wing from around 25 yards out was deflected wide of Matthews’ goal through a block from Jordan Willis.
Johnson made four changes in one period, with Ollie Younger, Grant Leadbitter, Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke being given some match minutes at Stadium MK, with Jordan Willis, Josh Scowen, Jordan Jones and Aiden O’Brien all being removed from the action.
One of those changes almost played a part in a second goal for the Black Cats, as Charlie Wyke set up Dan Neil, whose drilling shot was looped wide of the left post after a hefty deflection.
MK Dons’ best chance of the second half came when Jerome rolled the ball to Scott Fraser, whose left-footed shot from just inside the penalty area was fired goal wards. Remi Matthews was able to sink down and palm the ball away from the back of the net.
The Black Cats’ place in the semi-finals of the competition was sealed when Diamond’s cross was cleared from the penalty area, but dropped only to Aiden McGeady. His left-footed drive slipped out of the grasp of the MK Dons goalkeeper and rolled into the bottom right corner.
The icing was placed on top of Sunderland’s evening, as Charlie Wyke claimed his now-signature goal as he flicked Grant Leadbitter’s cross into the bottom right corner of the MK Dons net.
During the final moments of the match, the Black Cats managed those minutes correctly, with Lee Johnson’s side booking their place in the final four of the Papa John’s Trophy.
Full Time - MK Dons 0-3 Sunderland AFC
It is very rare in football that teams have two back-to-back games against the same side, at the same place.
Tuesday night’s Papa John’s Trophy tie against MK Dons possibly set the tone for what the Black Cats could expect on Saturday afternoon.
Of course both sides will make changes, but on Tuesday, MK Dons and Sunderland made only three and four switches respectively from their previous matches.
The usual suspects are likely to be deployed in attack for the Black Cats, but was the debut of Jordan Jones enough to warrant a start in the League One meeting?
There were moments on Tuesday night, where his pace was clear to see for all - his bursting runs carving open the MK Dons midfield lacked an end-product, but that will come with time, playing sides at this level.
A slight bit of pace is something that fans have been calling for since the start of the season, and through Jordan Jones, it may seem that they may have found their man.
Many times I have stated that League One is the main priority, and as the season reaches the halfway point, the predicament the club finds themselves in, means that they need to give 110% every league match.
Meanwhile, the wrongs of the Checkatrade Trophy final in 2019 still need to be rewritten, and there are still players in the squad, who would want to win a trophy in what may be their final season for the club.
Many players’ contracts run out in the summer, as the Papa John’s Trophy may be the only silverware that the club may win. It could the one of two, including the League One promotion trophy, but the Papa John’s Trophy seems more achievable at this moment.
There is still the point on whether the final will actually take place. Last season’s final between Portsmouth and Salford is still yet to be played, with fans needed to be at Wembley for the competitions to end.
Tuesday night would have brought many points to Lee Johnson’s attention, with the period in the middle of the game being largely controlled by the hosts.
The scoreline of three-nil may have been harsh on Russell Martin’s side, but football is a ruthless game, and it is the teams that take their chances that will come out on top.
Luke O’Nien also seemed well adapted in his centre-midfield role, with a passionate and energetic player in the centre of the park something which we have been crying out for, for a long time.
The injury sustained by Callum McFadzean will open the door to Jake Vokins possibly making his debut for the club in the next visit to Stadium MK, with both managers likely to be making a few changes.
A semi-final spot in the Papa John’s Trophy moves Sunderland one step closer to Wembley, but Saturday’s League One match against MK Dons brings the more significant game.