Last week got off to a good start with a terrific performance and victory at Bramall Lane. Max Power was the hero against The Blades, with his screamer the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory. More importantly, there were several stand out performances in the team; with Lee Burge, Joel Lynch and Laurens De Bock all putting in a shift. Hopefully, Jack Ross could inject the same energy into his team selection for this game against MK Dons at the Stadium of Light.
Ross acted on the disappointing 1-1 draw at Bolton last weekend by making a total of six changes to the MK team sheet. One of these was forced, with the injured Aiden McGeady missing out, which allowed Luke O’Nien to revert into an attacking midfield role, so Conor McLaughlin came back into the back four.
New signings Joel Lynch and Laurens De Bock started in defence. This meant that Tom Flanagan and Denver Hume both dropped to the bench. Dylan McGeouch and Max Power partnered in midfield, a complete change from the pairing of Grant Leadbitter and George Dobson, who were both part of the team that was held by Bolton. Finally, Charlie Wyke replaced Will Grigg in our usual 4-2-3-1 setup.
MK Dons’ squad lacked any real quality on paper, having been recently promoted from League 2. Former Norwich City defender Russel Martin started in the defence, he is known for a very simplistic, ‘no nonsense’ approach. Former Manchester United defender Regan Poole was alongside him, a player who has obviously shown his potential at Youth level. The Dons opted for a two up front formation, with Jordan Bowery and Sam Nombe leading the line for Robbie Neilson’s men.
After two consecutive 1-1 draws in our last two league fixtures, the confidence from the supporters wasn’t all there. However, the win in midweek will definitely have motivated the players, with many of them maintaining their starting spots because of that performance.
Sunderland got the match underway, with three points the expectation as usual. The first few minutes started well for us, with the first half chance coming with just three minutes on the clock. Joel Lynch sent a brilliantly weighted ball forward, but Charlie Wyke was unable to open the scoring as his effort was stopped. The Dons started to gain more of the possession, but there were no real clear-cut chances in the first twenty minutes. However, Max Power made an opportunity of his own on 24 minutes, with a first time screamer from distance nestling in the MK Dons net. Having scored an equally impressive goal in midweek, Max Power will definitely be high in confidence. The lead was almost doubled on two separate occasions, with Luke O’Nien granted the chance both times. Fortunately, Luke O’Nien earned his goal on the third attempt by dinking the ball calmly over The Dons’ goalkeeper, with the linesman signalling that the ball had passed the line. A 2-0 lead within the opening thirty minutes was just the start we needed, with the scoreline staying the same at the break. It was a half where we just did the basics well, which is often the hardest thing to do in this division.
A two goal cushion is always a dangerous one, so any complacency would more than likely be costly in the second half. We had to try and increase the difference to ensure the win, unfortunately this didn’t seem to be the approach. Ten minutes into the second half, former Aston Villa man Jordan Bowery finished off what looked like a goalmouth scramble to get the Dons well and truly back into the game at 2-1. Sunderland really failed to get going in this half, with Chris Maguire’s attempt, which sailed over the bar, being our closest attempt on goal. Denver Hume replaced Laurens De Bock in defence, with what has to be considered a very encouraging performance from the Belgian fullback. Despite having a fair share of possession, MK Dons didn’t really test Jon McLaughlin too much, although they definitely put up a fight. Will Grigg replaced Charlie Wyke for the last fifteen minutes, with George Dobson also getting an injury time run out when he replaced Lynden Gooch in midfield. With the referee blowing to end what was a pretty quiet second half, we were able to hold onto all three points; a much-needed step in the right direction.
All in all, a 2-1 win can never be labelled as a bad result. However, we definitely need to be wrapping up games like this and not trying to hold onto a lead. The difference in quality from a Sunderland perspective between the first and second half was crystal clear; it just seemed as if we were happy to settle for the two goals.
We travel to Lincoln next Saturday, with The Imps sitting in a comfortable mid table position after a mixed run of form. In reality, this should really be another three points for Jack Ross’ men!