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Finlay’s Report: MK Dons v Sunderland – one point gained or two points dropped?

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MK Dons held the Black Cats to a draw yesterday as Sunderland dropped to seventh in the table. It is a question that has been asked a lot during the past three seasons, but was it a case of two points dropped or one point gained?

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

Sunderland continued their unbeaten run away from the Stadium of Light, but their second of two back-to-back trips to Stadium MK ended with a 2-2 draw.

After Charlie Wyke netted another goal, Joe Mason and Cameron Jerome put MK Dons into the driving seat before Luke O’Nien levelled the match for the Black Cats. Two-all it stayed, meaning Sunderland drop down to 7th position in the League One table.


The Team...

On loan Southampton full back Jake Vokins was given his Sunderland debut at left-back, in one of six changes Lee Johnson made to the side that beat MK Dons 3-0 on Tuesday night. Bailey Wright returned to the centre of defence, with Charlie Wyke continuing to lead the line. Aiden McGeady replaced Rangers loanee Jordan Jones on the left wing, while Grant Leadbitter lined up alongside Luke O’Nien in the centre of midfield.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Vokins was named in the starting line up for the first time after his arrival from Southampton
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

First Half Action

MK Dons enjoyed more of the possession in the final third in the opening stages of the match, but it was Sunderland that took the lead with their first attack of the game.

O’Brien held the ball up well before rolling it to McGeady, who slid it into the penalty area to Charlie Wyke. The Sunderland striker continued his prolific goalscoring form, as he rolled it into the bottom right corner with his left foot.

After the goal, MK Dons continued to attack, and quickly found an equaliser when Joe Mason levelled only four minutes after the Black Cats took the lead.

Scott Fraser’s left-footed shot from just outside of the penalty area was parried away by Lee Burge, but only to fall to the feet of Cameron Jerome. The veteran striker’s shot was clawed off the goalline by Burge, before Mason poked the ball over the line.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Mason gets the equaliser
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Russell Martin’s side were the superior team, and took a deserved lead – Matt O’Riley’s shot from distance landed in the path of Jerome, who sprinted onto the ball and tapped it past Burge.

Sunderland looked to swing the match back in their favour, as Wyke’s right-footed shot was arrowed just over the bar, before Power’s volley from McGeady’s cross was also side-footed over the bar.

In between those chances, MK Dons caused Burge another problem, as O’Riley’s free-kick from the right was looped into the air by Jerome’s flick. This caused the Sunderland goalkeeper to scramble across his goal, before punching the ball away.

Just before the break, both Lynden Gooch and McGeady tried their luck to level the match, but both of their efforts were straight into the gloves of the MK Dons goalkeeper.

Half Time - MK Dons 2-1 Sunderland AFC


Second Half Action

MK Dons began the second half well, and if it wasn’t for Bailey Wright, Russell Martin’s side would have quickly extended their advantage.

Mason’s right-footed shot from a tight angle was sent past Lee Burge, with the Sunderland defender being on hand to nod the ball away from danger.

The Black Cats found a leveller in fortunate circumstances.

McGeady’s shot was looking like it was going to be heading wide of the left post, but O’Nien controlled the ball and a beautiful turn enabled him to poke it into the bottom right corner.

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

Sunderland had a penalty shout that wasn’t given by the referee, as McGeady’s cross was met by the head of Aiden O’Brien, but a hand from Dean Lewington blocked the effort from heading goalwards. The referee, however, turned the appeals down.

Lee Johnson made a double substitution within ten minutes, as Jordan Jones and Josh Scowen were introduced into play, with Lynden Gooch and Luke O’Nien being replaced.

MK Dons searched for another goal that would have put them back into the lead, as Scott Fraser’s effort was volleyed towards goal, but the head of Bailey Wright blocked the MK Dons forwards’ chance.

Aiden McGeady tried his luck to turn from creator to scorer, as he was given space inside of the penalty area, but his shot was drilled towards goal. The MK Dons goalkeeper was forced to dive down to his right to defend the ball from sneaking through him.

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

With less than ten minutes of normal time remaining, Lee Johnson made another double switch, as Dion Sanderson and Chris Maguire were thrown on to try and claim the three points, with Jake Vokins and Aiden O’Brien being removed.

A late chance from the Black Cats wasn’t finished off, as McGeady’s right-footed effort was blocked by the legs of the MK Dons goalkeeper, before Maguire’s shot was also blocked by a MK Dons shirt, as the match ended level.

Full Time - MK Dons 2-2 Sunderland AFC


Finlay’s Verdict....

Saturday’s 2-2 draw began what could be the toughest and most significant month of Sunderland’s 2020/2021 season, and Lee Johnson would have wanted a better start.

Despite remaining unbeaten on the road, the new Sunderland head coach will most likely deem this as the Black Cats’ most disappointing trip away from home since he took charge, but it seems such a similar story that the Black Cats have endured more than once.

Only last week, Sunderland let an early one-goal lead slip against Gillingham, and did the same on Saturday at Stadium MK.

If Tuesday’s EFL Trophy win provided cause for optimism, the early start would have certainly ignited that passion, but fans and players were sent crashing back down to earth with a bump.

Two goals in the space of ten minutes put MK Dons in a strong position, and Sunderland fans wouldn’t have had any excuses if the Dons did claim all three points.

The warning signs were already there after Tuesday night’s win.

Despite claiming a 3-0 win, MK Dons frustrated the Black Cats and came agonisingly close to at least one goal. On this occasion, they managed two.

That was repeated at the weekend, as the Sunderland were pegged into their own half from the very start of the match, and Cameron Jerome was a handful for the defence.

Scott Fraser showed in patches why the Black Cats scouted him in the past summer transfer window, but the salary cap put a halt to that transfer.

Sunderland may have come away with the three points if a refereeing decision went their way, as a clear handball from O’Brien’s header not being worthy of a penalty from the man in charge.

Overall, it ended with the points being shared, with the month of February beginning in a gutting fashion – similar to how to January ended.

With an in-form Shrewsbury, Doncaster and Lincoln all coming up in the next two weeks, there is no doubt that February could well determine where the Black Cats will be at the end of the season.

Take points from Doncaster, and there may be a reason to be cheerful, but drop points to Darren Moore’s side and the Black Cats will be left in a difficult position.

Lee Johnson will be solely focused on the next game and not the coming month, with a trip to Shropshire coming on Tuesday night.

But after two successive draws in League One, the pressure is on for three points if Sunderland want to stay in the promotion picture.