Sunderland maintained their 100% start to the new season as they produced yet another 2-1 victory, this time at Stadium MK. 3,000 travelling supporters watched the lads overcome MK Dons in what was Liam Manning’s first game as the home side’s manager.
Goals either side of half time from Ross Stewart and Elliot Embleton had seemed to have given Sunderland unassailable control, but a defensive error allowed Troy Parrott to half the deficit, with a late penalty miss from Lynden Gooch adding to the late Sunderland tension.
After last weekend’s League One opener, Lee Johnson made one change, with Luke O’Nien unavailable through illness. New addition Dennis Cirkin was given his debut in the left-back role, with Dan Neil pushed further forward into central midfield, alongside the captain Corry Evans. After netting what proved to be the winner last Saturday, Ross Stewart continued to lead the line, with Aiden McGeady and Elliot Embleton both overcoming fitness concerns to start at Stadium MK.
First Half Action
Tuesday’s EFL Cup game against Port Vale had finished in nervy fashion, but Sunderland got that out of their system with a bright start in front of the 3,000 travelling support from the North East.
It was almost rewarded with an early goal. Embleton’s quick corner found Lynden Gooch, whose effort from outside of the penalty area was palmed away by Andrew Fisher in the MK Dons goal.
From there, MK Dons began to find their rhythm; Daniel Harvie’s low cross across the face of goal had to be diverted behind by the extended leg of Tom Flanagan, and then Harvie’s cross from the left eventually dropping to Tennai Watson at the back post, who blazed his volley over the bar.
Ross Stewart up top proved a handful for the MK Dons defenders, and his diving header from Lynden Gooch’s cross was easily saved by the MK Dons ‘keeper.
Sunderland were finding it increasingly difficult to keep hold of the ball, and almost conceded when Scott Twine knocked the ball past an on-rushing Lee Burge, steering the ball wide in the process.
With the half-time interval approaching, Sunderland clinically took the lead. McGeady’s low cross was spilled by Fisher, and Ross Stewart was on hand to prod home from a couple of yards out.
Half Time - MK Dons FC 0-1 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
After scoring minutes before half time, Sunderland dealt MK Dons what should have been a hammer blow only minutes into the second half.
Gooch’s cross dropped to the feet of Dan Neil on the outside of the penalty area, whose first-time pass was blocked. Neil recycled possession and his second pass proved to be decisive, as Elliot Embleton beat the offside trap and produced a thumping finish into the roof of the net for his first goal for the club.
It should have been game over, but Sunderland allowed the home side back into the contest thanks to an error from Lee Burge. His misplaced throw allowed MK Dons to push forward with Ethan Robson carrying the ball towards goal before finding Tottenham loanee, Troy Parrott, who produced a fine finish past Burge.
Liam Manning’s side began to assert their dominance on proceedings, with Matt O’Riley’s teasing low cross into the penalty area inches away from both Troy Parrott and Mo Eisa.
Despite being cramped within their own half for most of the second period, Sunderland did try to exploit opportunities to break out, with Stewart’s knock-on finding Alex Pritchard, who fired an effort against the side netting.
The Black Cats were gifted an opportunity to put the game to bed as the game entered the closing stages. Ross Stewart ran onto Dan Neil’s beautifully-weighted dink into the penalty area, tangled with defender Harry Darling, who conceded a spot-kick.
After discussion with Stewart, Lynden Gooch stepped up from 12 yards, but the goalkeeper easily saved low to his left.
Stewart did have an opportunity to seal the game for Sunderland; his low effort flying just wide of the far post, but despite another nervy ending to a game Sunderland hung on for maximum points.
Full Time - MK Dons FC 1-2 Sunderland AFC
Sunderland never seem to do it the easy way, do they?
Three games played, three nervy endings to the match, but most importantly, three 2-1 victories to kick-start the new season.
Not only does it show the resilience of this squad, but it shows both the mental and physical characteristics of a team to hold onto a one-goal lead. In previous seasons, it may have been thrown away so easily.
Last season, Stadium MK proved to be one of the places that Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes went off course. This season, it was a place where their winning start continued - adding to the optimism of two fresh new signings, a return to football matches for fans and last weekend’s opening-day win.
The signing of Dennis Cirkin in the week seems to be one for both the present and the future, with the teenager proving to be a reliable asset in his first game in a Sunderland shirt.
There is no doubt harder challenges lie ahead during the next couple of weeks. Two 100% winning starts will be put on the line at the Pirelli Stadium on Tuesday night when we face Burton, before fixtures against Wycombe, Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth in the coming weeks.
But for now, Lee Johnson’s focus will be firmly on Tuesday’s game. However, for all of us, try and make it less nervy!