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2 Up, 2 Down: The decent and the utterly superb from Sunderland’s cup victory at MK Dons!

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Sunderland pulled off a dominant Papa John’s Trophy quarter-final victory at Stadium MK and we discuss the many positives as well as scrape the barrel on finding potential negatives!

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


Kelvin Beattie says...

Two Up!

1. The return of Luke O’Nien...

I was mightily impressed with Luke O’Nien tonight on his first full game for a good while. He looked fit and sharp as he started in what is alleged to be his favourite position in the centre of the midfield.

Snapping into tackles, winning headers and charging forward at every opportunity, he looked as if he had been playing in that position for us since “Jack was a Lad”.

Cue injury to McFadzean and its back to left-back for Luke, where he barely put a foot wrong, especially when making at least two crucial interceptions with some effective marking. He still managed to find time to get up and support his attack. A real 9/10 performance.

2. Pace and pressure on the ball...

It was great to see us attacking with pace, especially in the second half. Jones on his debut looked very quick and direct and Diamond had a very effective second half, committing his defender and putting some powerful runs and crosses in.

Dan Neil played very effectively when he came on. Assured in possession and quick to get forward and support the attack, he must have played himself in to Big Lee’s thinking moving forward. For me he ran Luke O’Nien close for man of the match.

I also thought we managed the game well after half-time, and the substitutions helped us by offering a different challenge to MK Dons through Wyke and McGeady. Oliver Younger was very steady too and looks a good athlete each time I see him play. A good night for Sunderland with Wyke and McGeady continuing their goal scoring we can look forward to Saturday.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy
Luke O’Nien impressed for Sunderland on his return to the starting line-up
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Two Down!

1. Pitch for Saturday...

With a 3-0 win in the quarter final away from home, it seems a tad churlish to be looking for negatives. The pitch was disappointing, it looked like a cabbage patch before the start of the game and got worse as the game went on.

Hard to imagine it being that much better by Saturday. This type of pitch does not suite our new style and I would imagine we will see a much more combative performance from MK on Saturday.

2. Sitting back after taking a lead...

After our first goal, we appeared to retreat from our pressing game till well after half-time. I don’t know if this was tactical, if so it was an error and could have easily let MK back in to the game. We looked much more threatening when we pressed well and forced MK to play it long.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy - Quarter Final - Stadium MK
Hopefully the pitch at Stadium MK will somehow improve for Sunderland’s second visit to Buckinghamshire in the space of a week
Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

Malcolm Dugdale says...

Two Up!

1. Goals...

We scored three goals via three different approaches, and closed a game out without conceding. The defence was scrambling at times, but we came away with a clean sheet and that has to be a positive, especially after soft goals against Plymouth and Gillingham denied us points. A trip to Wembley may be on again...

2. Strength in depth...

Some of the returning or newer players really shined at times. O’Nien was awesome, even though forced to left back through the loss of McFadzean, which I’d argue improved the team.

Jones looked very promising in attacking midfield and down the left, and young Dan Neil grew into the game well, where he really controlled our attacking play at times later on. Very good signs in several places. That said, O’Brien was pretty anonymous after doing well of late.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy
Lynden Gooch impressed for Sunderland at the same venue where he scored the winning goal last season
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Two Down!

1. Pressing game consistency...

We allowed MK too much possession, and too close to our half and at times into it, which worked out ok in the end, but worried me at times.

If the plan is to press from a point of the pitch backwards, we need to do that all game. Our pressing game either ran out of steam or didn’t work as well during periods of the game, and that brought them onto us. Not clever.

2. Final ball...

Too many good moves broke down with a poor final pass or a forced one when options existed. Especially after the lucky opener, we sat back and gave the ball away which added to the pitch position and possession we allowed them, putting us under pressure we could have avoided.

We need to play more of the attractive football we saw on occasions, and if we can execute the end product as well as the slick build up we will keep winning.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy
Jack Diamond scores Sunderland’s opening goal with the help from a deflection off Dean Lewington
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Reece Davies says...

Two Up!

1. Pacey line-up...

We had a set up which had pace tonight and one that could actually support the front man. There was a stark difference in the way Wyke could play in that set up, which stopped him dropping so deep or going wide.

Having pace does so much more that getting on the end of a pass. It stops others searching for the ball and sticking to task. Having pace down the flanks in Diamond and Jones for example, allows the front man to stay central and attack the box.

We’ve seen it creeping in - in recent weeks and the goals we are scoring are a product early balls in to the box or players attacking the box with the ball at their feet.

2. Putting a team to the sword...

Teams are always going to try to frustrate Sunderland, especially at home and for the most part, we play in to their hands.

At this level we have players who can damage teams when they are used correctly, and Lee Johnson is really starting to show that he can get the best out of our forward players. The likes of McGeady, Wyke, Diamond, Gooch and now Jones probably, look like the shackles are off and they’re being given the license to push on.

With the manager now having options for the two positions behind the striker or out wide (O’Nien was superb in there early on, as was Dan Neil), we should have the protection for the attacking four to commit moving forward.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy - Quarter Final - Stadium MK
The Sunderland players celebrate the third goal at MK Dons scored by Charlie Wyke
Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

Two Down!

1. An out-of-position Max Power...

The lad is doing a job and he is doing it well to be fair but there was occasions where the winger stood him up tall, meaning he’s far too easy to go past. This dragged a central defender out of position, and a team with a bigger threat out wide and a switched on front man probably would have exploited our weakness down that side.

2. Sloppy spells...

It usually happens when we’ve scored but we go through periods of games and coast. We were very good at pressing in the game at times yesterday, but there are portions of games where we let the other team dictate play and move us around.

Pressing in twos or threes makes teams panic and when we did this yesterday, we looked a class above. It’s those isolated 5-20 minute spells in games when we are lax and get punished, luckily yesterday we didn’t. I hope that is an area that LJ can improve.