Sunderland are in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup, after a fairly convincing 2-0 victory over League One table-toppers Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium last night.
Goals from Nathan Broadhead and Luke O’Nien sealed the Black Cats’ progression to the last 16 of the tournament, in a match that saw the debut of Leon Dajaku in a Sunderland shirt.
It was a dominant performance from the Black Cats, who created two well-worked goals to knock out the Latics and send themselves into the fourth round for the second time in three seasons.
As expected, Lee Johnson made a raft of changes for the third-round tie at the DW Stadium, with Leon Dajaku making his first appearance in a Sunderland shirt in attack. He was joined by the hero of the last round, Aiden O’Brien, who was looking to maintain his grip on the top of the Carabao Cup goal-scoring charts.
Bailey Wright, Luke O’Nien and Dennis Cirkin were the only players to keep their places after the weekend’s 2-2 draw against Fleetwood Town, with summer signings Niall Huggins, Frederik Alves, Corry Evans, Alex Pritchard and Nathan Broadhead all featuring in the starting 11.
First Half Action
After the weekend’s disappointment at Highbury, Sunderland started the brighter of the two teams, with the away side twice going close to opening proceedings at the DW Stadium.
Luke O’Nien’s shot from the edge of the penalty area went narrowly over the bar, before Alex Pritchard’s effort after impressive play from Leon Dajaku was deflected just wide of the post.
Dajaku looked an influential outlet in attack for the Black Cats on his debut in a Sunderland shirt down the right-wing. He was creative in the final third, but couldn’t convert his effort, which was blocked inside the penalty area.
It was the away side that looked more likely to score the first goal, and Aiden O’Brien almost netted it in superb fashion, as his thumping effort from Broadhead’s knock-down was sent just wide of the left post.
On 26 minutes, Sunderland scored the opening goal their dominance deserved, with Nathan Broadhead grabbing his first goal for the club.
A long ball forward was left by an offside Aiden O’Brien for Broadhead, who picked the ball up on the left, drove forward into the box, and arrowed the ball into the bottom right corner with his right foot.
Confidence was visibly flowing through the starting 11 and it may have been two for the visitors in very special fashion only moments later, as Dennis Cirkin carried the ball down the left wing, before his left-footed drilling effort was tipped over the bar by Ben Amos in the Wigan goal.
The Latics sought to hold more possession after conceding the first goal and had their first shot on target just before the interval, as Gavin Massey’s effort drew a simple save from Lee Burge, but the tie was in Sunderland’s hands heading into the half-time interval.
Half Time - Wigan Athletic 0-1 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
Lee Johnson’s side continued where they left off at the end of the first half and looked threatening in attack, and a superb move doubled the Black Cats’ lead.
Broadhead held the ball up well, before feeding Niall Huggins, who rolled it across the face of goal to O’Nien who side-footed it into the bottom left corner.
With 20 minutes remaining, Leon Dajaku and Alex Pritchard were withdrawn, replaced by Ross Stewart and Elliot Embleton.
Unlike Saturday, the Black Cats did create opportunities to extend their advantage, as Stewart’s deflected effort dropped narrowly wide, before Aiden O’Brien’s ambitious effort was fired just wide of the right post.
A major worry for Lee Johnson came in the latter stages of the match, as he was forced into removing Huggins, who had turned in an impressive display, Dan Neil replacing him. Johnson said after the game they were hopeful it was just cramp.
It was a tame display from the League One leaders, who made nine changes coming into the match, and the quality of the Black Cats clearly showed as Lee Johnson’s side held on without a major challenge in the final moments, and the fourth round of the Carabao Cup awaits.
Full Time - Wigan Athletic 0-2 Sunderland AFC
Sunderland are beginning to love the Carabao Cup.
First, Port Vale. Then, Blackpool. And now, Wigan Athletic.
A variety of challenges that Lee Johnson’s side have overcome in fine fashion and now, a potential rewarding tie against one of the Premier League’s “big boys” may await in the fourth round.
Not only is it showing Sunderland’s current squad depth, but it is also providing competition for places and a welcome headache for Lee Johnson, as well as building more momentum and confidence.
After Saturday’s heart-breaking 2-2 draw against Fleetwood, it felt like another major statement against the current League One table-toppers, despite Wigan being without their key men and lacking any form of creativity.
Yes, Wigan may have made wholesale changes going into the game – without the likes of Charlie Wyke Max Power and James McClean – but so did Sunderland, and it still feels like we’ve overcome a major hurdle.
On the day, it proved to be a fairly comfortable and dominant display from a second-string Black Cats side, with Wigan hardly given Sunderland’s youthful defence a test.
The tie gave players like Niall Huggins, Leon Dajaku and Nathan Broadhead chances to stake their claim for a place in the first team in League One, and they all responded well to the challenge.
Broadhead was arguably one of the most impressive performers. His hold-up play in the final third portrayed his confidence leading the line for Sunderland and he earned the reward of his first goal for the Black Cats.
Now, Sunderland are one of the 16 teams through to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup, where the opportunity of a tasty tie against one of the Premier League “big six” may lie ahead – but based on their current form in the competition, Sunderland won’t fear anyone.
The Black Cats have the quality and the confidence to provide whoever they face with a stern test, with the importance of a cup run becoming significant both on and off the pitch.
With attention now turning back to the league on Saturday, Bolton Wanderers are the latest team to visit the Stadium of Light, and the Black Cats will be looking to get back onto the winning trail in Sky Bet League One.
The changes made on Tuesday will no doubt help with the fitness and recovery of the main first-teamers, with Bolton benefiting from a free midweek in their own preparation for the weekend’s fixture.
However, in the Carabao Cup, Sunderland’s journey is far from over, and whoever lies in wait will know they’re in for a cracking cup tie.