A late fightback from Premier League Sunderland broke Dons’ hearts as they let slip a two goal lead to go down 4-2 at the Stadium of Light, ending their Capital Cup run.
Patrick Bamford fired Dons into a seventh minute lead before Izale McLeod sensationally doubled it early in the second half. But Jozy Altidore pulled one back for Paolo Di Canio’s men with 14 minutes remaining, sparking a monumental fightback. Substitute Connor Wickham had earlier missed a sitter but couldn’t miss from six yards with four minutes to go before his strike took a cruel deflection off Ben Reeves put Sunderland 3-2 up with a minute remaining. Adam Johnson added another in stoppage time to make it 4-2.
As expected, Karl Robinson made wholesale changes to the side which started on Saturday against Bristol City. Among others, Izale McLeod and Alan Smith were handed their first starts of the season, while Ian McLoughlin came in to replace David Martin in goal.
Robinson said he’d be going through the motions in this game, not especially worried about the result, though there was a beaming smile across his face after seven minutes when Patrick Bamford fired his side into the lead.
After a stray pass was picked up by Dele Alli on half way, he broke forward and found Bamford on the edge of box. Spinning his man with a brilliant touch, Bamford fired in left-footed and low passed Vito Mannone in the Sunderland net.
It could have been even worse three minutes later when Alan Smith, who received an unsurprisingly hostile reception from the home supporters, got the last touch on Stephen Gleeson’s free kick from the left flank, forcing keeper Mannone into a fine save, diving to his left.
The home side were really struggling to get going, and the fans were quick to let them know. Misplaced passes were met with jeers of disgust as early as the fifth minute, and their mood barely changed in the opening 20 minutes as Sunderland failed to create anything of worth against their lower league opponents. Jozy Altidore’s long range free kick straight at McLoughlin was as close as they came.
At the other end, a brilliant move featuring four one-touch passes made space for Izale McLeod who came within inches of doubling Dons lead when he shrugged off the attentions of Jack Colback but fired his shot just wide of Mannone’s goal.
From there, the tie developed into a messy midfield scrap. Both sides put together some decent moves in the middle of the park, but found their killer ball was distinctly average.
Sunderland though should have been level a minute before the break when Jozy Altidore worked himself some room on the edge of the box and curled in a right-footed effort across McLoughlin. His strike beat the keeper but not the frame of the goal, but as it bounced back into play, David Moberg-Karlsson couldn’t control the loose ball, stabbing at it and lofting it comfortably back into McLoughlin’s arms.
Dons came close to making it 2-0 once again just 90 seconds after half time when Bamford’s step-overs held up play long enough for Gleeson to arrive on the edge of the box, grazing the top of the bar with his strike.
But it wasn’t long before it was 2-0. With the Sunderland line up on halfway, Carruthers picked up on the loose ball in midfield and spotting the run from McLeod, played him in behind. Racing through, McLeod showed no signs of rustiness in front of goal as he brilliantly dinked the ball over the despairing Mannone to double the lead.
Sunderland should have pulled one back immediately though, but McLoughlin pulled off a fine stop to keep out Moberg-Karlsson’s shot on the turn, and substitute Connor Wickham was inches away from the follow-up as the ball was blasted back across the face of goal.
The home side kept on coming too, with Adam Johnson the next to chance his arm with 22 minutes remaining. Mugging Ben Reeves on the edge of the area, Johnson turned and sprinted through on goal, but his close-range shot was well saved by McLoughlin.
Some fans were heading for the Stadium of Light exit doors with 14 minutes to go, but they’d have missed Jozy Alitdore get his side right back in the mix. Latching on to Wickham’s deft lofted ball over the top, Altidore no second invitation to rifle into the bottom corner, reducing the deficit to 2-1.
And few would have predicted Wickham’s equaliser with four minutes to go as Ondrej Celustka overlapped Johnson on the right to set up the tap in equaliser to send the game towards extra time.
But it wasn’t to be with a minute of normal time remaining, and it shattered Dons’ hearts. Wickham shook off Antony Kay and fired a shot towards goal. It looked to be safely heading to McLoughlin, but a deflection off Ben Reeves’ backside wrong-footed the keeper and the ball tamely trickled over the line to put Sunderland into the lead.
Adam Johnson fired the final nail in the coffin as he raced clear and smashed past McLoughlin from a tight angle in stoppage time.
Robinson probably would have taken the result at the beginning of play, but having seen his side take a two goal lead, arguably will feel more than a little aggrieved on the bus on the way home.
Referee: David Coote
Sunderland:Mannone, Cabral (Larsson 60), Johnson, Celustka, Colback, Vaughan, O’Shea, Altidore, Moberg-Karlsson (Mavrias 65), Ji (Wickham, 49), Roberge
Subs not used: Westwood, Fletcher, Ba, Cuellar
MK Dons: McLoughlin, Reeves, Williams, Kay, Baldock, Gleeson, Smith, Alli, Bamford (Otsemobor 66), Carruthers (Banton 66), McLeod (Chadwick, 82)
Subs not used: Burns, Hodson, Chadwick, Galloway, Rasulo
Booked: Baldock, Roberge, McLoughlin