A brave MK Dons could not overcome the force of Premier League side Sunderland as they were beaten 2-0 in the Capital One Cup at stadiummk.
The Dons arguably deserved so much more from the game but 10-man Sunderland, who had captain Lee Cattermole dismissed in the 31st minute, had the extra bite in front of goal that the Dons were lacking and had second-half goals from Craig Gardner, who struck a wonder free-kick, and James McClean to thank for reaching the fourth round of the League Cup.
The home side had more than hold their own against Martin O’Neill’s side and had dominated the play in large spells, but the Black Cats defence was tough to break down and ultimately it was Sunderland’s clinical finishing that proved the difference in the tie.
The hardest task for Karl Robinson prior to the game was to predict the team Sunderland would field and despite Martin O’Neill making five changes he still named a strong squad at stadiummk with Louis Saha, Danny Rose and Craig Gardner all in the starting XI.
For the Dons a late bout of illness to David Martin denied Robinson his number 1 and thrust Ireland Under-21 goalie Ian McLoughlin into his first Dons start. Jon Otsemobor was also missing through illness while Gary MacKenzie and Jimmy Bullard missed out through injury.
There was however, a start for Alan Smith; the former Newcastle United skipper led the line for the Dons against a team with fans who still boo his every touch.
As expected, Sunderland began the game brightly with strong intent on getting at the dons early on. Yet, some telling challenges, especially by Dean Lewington on Stephane Sessegnon spoke volumes about the Dons’ own intentions for the game.
The football between the two sides was quick and neat, but clear-cut chances were at a premium with Luke Chadwick dragging a low shot wide of the right post and Saha seeing his shot nodded away before causing any threat to McLoughlin.
The 21-year-old was called into action in the 19th minute when Sissegnon robbed the ball on the right of midfield and cut the ball back to Saha, but not before advancing to the edge of the Dons’ box.
The former Manchester United striker was a route through the Dons’ defence as he drilled a fierce shot for McLoughlin to block.
It wasn’t just the Black Cats creating the chances though, as a Dean Bowditch corner found Stephen Gleeson unmarked inside the area and the Irishman struck a fine half-volley which fell just wide.
Saha was enduring a frustrating time with over-hit deliveries running too far for the forward to cause any danger for the Dons. Making it harder for Sunderland, when the ball found Matt Kilgallon 30-yards out he wastefull sent a wild and loose shot well off-target.
While Sunderland entered the game as favourites their odds would have shifted when the half-hour mark struck as a poor and strong tackle from their captain Cattermole on Adam Chicksen gave Stuart Atwell little other alternative than to brandish the red card.
Despite finding themselves down to 10 men, Sunderland managed to keep the Dons at bay. The home side were on top with their passing, spraying the ball around the stadiummk pitch but they had to find the right moment to slice through the defence. A fantastic team move resulted in a angry reaction from Robinson on the sideline when both Daniel Powell and Chadwick failed to shot at the right time and as a resulted ended in the chance disappearing for the Dons.
Bowditch, who netted a hat-trick at Bury on Saturday, took the bull by the horns though as he rifled a low shot inches wide.
Dons were on top at the re-start too, Potter saw Keiren Westwood tested at his near post with a long-range effort and from the resulting corner found its way out to Gleeson, who was outside the area, but his powerful shot could not find a way through the Black Cats defence.
At the other end, Kay gave away a free-kick when he blocked the run of James McClean and the opportunity of a free-kick from 25-yards out was handed to the visitors.
Gardner stepped up to the ball, striking it with venom to lift it over the Dons wall and, with the ball swerving at pace, tucking it into the top left corner with a flat-footed McLoughlin left with no chance.
Falling a goal behind after being on top forced Robinson to make a double substitution, bring on striking duo Ryan Lowe and Charlie MacDonald to strengthen their chances of finding the equaliser.
The duo linked up within minutes of being on the pitch as MacDonald got on the end of some neat football from the Dons before finding Lowe, who had ghosted through the back four, but the Liverpudlian hit his shot into the side netting.
Bowditch brought a spark when he outmuscled Rose, who had endured a tricky night coping with Powell, to cut the ball back from the byline. Unfortunately, MacDonald almost hit the ball too-well as he turned at the near post but failed to test Westwood.
The Dons continued to push as they searched for an equaliser, but the ball just wouldn’t fall for them as Bowditch broke into the box only to lift his shot well over.
Instead, it was Sunderland who found the back of the net when a superb mazy run from McClean pulled the Dons defence apart, with Kay turned inside out as the tricky forward dazzled before pulling the trigger to double Sunderland’s lead.
Dons had late chances, MacDonald knocked a Bowditch corner over the bar and in injury-time Man of the Match Chicksen had a last-gasp shot deflected.
The Dons bowed out of the Cup, but their supporters can be proud of their efforts against a strong Sunderland outfit.
MK Dons (4-2-3-1): McLoughlin; Chicksen, Kay, Williams, Lewington (c); Potter, Gleeson; Powell (O’Shea 78), Chadwick (Lowe 62), Bowditch; Smith (MacDonald 62).
Subs not used: Burns, Kouo-Doumbe, Alli, Spence.
Sunderland AFC: Westwood,Rose, Cattermole (c), Kilgallon, Colback, Vaughan, Meyler, McClean, Saha, Sessegnon (Johnson 85).
Subs not used: Mignolet, Campbell, Wickham, Dong-Won, Fletcher, Egan.
Sent-off: Cattermole 31
Goal: Gardner 54
Goal-Don Goal: 1st goal – 53.52; 2nd goal - 81.35