LEE Cattermole’s first half sending off wasn’t enough to help MK Dons through to the fourth round of the League Cup as Sunderland left stadium:mk 2-0 winners.
The Black Cats’ skipper caught Adam Chicksen high above the shin on the half hour mark to reduce the away side to 10 men, but they never looked in trouble against their League 1 opponents.
Craig Gardner’s incredible free-kick opened the scoring eight minutes after the break, wrong-footing Ian McLoughlin as his strike arrowed into the top corner, before James McClean wrapped proceedings up eight minutes from time with a shot low into the bottom corner.
Despite having a man advantage for most of the game, Dons failed to make Keiren Westwood work more than the odd goal-kick.
The biggest shock to the fans as they poured into stadium:mk was the omission of David Martin from the starting line-up. The keeper was taken ill on the eve of the game, handing McLoughlin his first start in Dons colours between the sticks.
As expected, Martin O’Neill named a healthy looking squad, but top scorer Steven Fletcher was left on the bench, with Louis Saha preferred to partner last year’s player of the year Stephane Sessegnon up front.
And it was Sessegnon who gave McLoughlin his first taste of action after six minutes with his strike from outside of the box, but it was straight at the Irishman.
Dons made a good fist of the opening 15 minutes. In a similar vein to the Blackburn game in the previous round, their higher-league opponents seemed content to absorb Dons’ early exuberance and hit them on the counter-attack.
McClean, who scored both Sunderland’s goals in their victory over Morecambe in the last round, showed off his potential as he skipped past three players in a break down the right flank, but another Sessegnon shot was straight at McLoughlin who punched clear for Dean Lewington to mop up.
Dons came closest to opening the scoring on 22 minutes and it came from a move straight off the training ground. Dean Bowditch took the corner from the right, and Stephen Gleeson broke quickly from the pack to reach the ball 15 yards out, but he scooped his shot narrowly wide of the mark.
The home side then somehow avoided a penalty shout when Danny Rose, the full-back on loan from Tottenham, raced clear of Bowditch and into the penalty area before appearing to be tripped by Saturday’s hat-trick hero in the box. Referee Stuart Atwell waved play on.
But the referee was quick to reach for his cards on the half hour mark though, and it was a decision which reduced Sunderland to 10 men. Captain Cattermole went in for a 50-50 ball with Chicksen, but got the challenge completely wrong, going over the top and catching the defender high on the knee. Atwell wasted no time in sending him off.
The advantage obviously gave Dons a new sense of confidence, but once again Karl Robinson was left questioning Daniel Powell’s decision making six minutes before the break.
Evading Gardner’s challenge just inside the Sunderland half, Powell burst forward with nothing between him and Keiren Westwood’s goal. But rather than take the keeper on, Powell checked inside and passed the ball to Luke Chadwick, who in turn looked for the immediate return to Powell, who didn’t get the memo as the ball rolled past him and harmlessly out of play.
A seething Robinson did well to only throw his water bottle back at the Dons dugout rather than at Powell, but will surely have given him a piece of his mind at the half time break.
And Dons came out looking the better side after the interval, but a piece of magic from Gardner set the sides apart on 53 minutes.
Antony Kay was booked for impeding McClean’s run, setting up a free-kick 25 yards out. Gardner – who made Dons look distinctly second best when he played for Birmingham City two years ago – shaped to bend his shot in at McLoughlin’s near post, but the ball straightened, wrong footing the keeper who could only watch it sail into the far corner. It was probably against the run of play, but the 10 men of Sunderland were in the lead.
It didn’t take Robinson long to call for changes – Ryan Lowe and Charlie MacDonald emerged from the bench just after the hour mark to replace Chadwick and the ineffective Alan Smith – as Dons switched to a two-man strike force.
Sunderland, content with their goal advantage, seemed happy to let Dons come at them but couldn’t resist another pop at goal from another set-piece, this time from the opposite side, but McClean couldn’t repeat Gardner’s magic as it skirted the side netting.
It was turning out to be a quiet night for the keepers. Aside from a handful of Sunderland shots early in the game, McLoughlin was hardly called upon, and similarly at the other end, Keiren Westwood was largely a paid spectator. Both Lowe and MacDonald had decent chances to level the scoring, but both failed to hit the target.
Arguably Dons’ best chance came when MacDonald flicked the ball back to Bowditch, but the striker couldn’t keep his shot down as it sailed high and wide of the mark.
And Sunderland put the final nail in the Dons coffin eight minutes from time when McClean showed great footwork to jink passed three players to fire across McLoughlin and into the bottom corner of the net.
In his return to the starting line-up, Chicksen once more proved he was worthy of a regular place with a stand-out performance for Robinson’s side, and he nearly put the cherry on the cake when his deflected shot in stoppage time found the roof of the net.
Dons were hardly left embarrassed by the final score, but Sunderland clearly flexed their Premier League muscle by barely needing to come out of second gear, though Robinson may be disappointed with the lack of shots on goal from his side. Either way, their road to Wembley ends early.
Referee: Stuart Atwell
MK Dons: McLoughlin, Lewington, Chicksen, Williams, Kay, Potter, Gleeson, Bowditch, Powell (O’Shea, 77), Chadwick (Lowe, 62), Smith (MacDonald, 62)
Subs not used: Burns, Doumbe, Alli, Spence
Sunderland: Westwood, Rose, Cattermole, Gardner, Kilgallon, Colback, Vaughan, Meyler, Saha, Sessegnon (Johnson, 85)
Subs not used: Mignolet, Campbell, Wickham, Dong-Won, Fletcher, Egan
Booked: Kay, Colback
Sent off: Cattermole