Both sides squandered leads in this riveting encounter at Stadium MK as The Black Cats ultimately landed on their feet. The home side have sadly lost their record of always taking the points after going in front this campaign but four points out of six against a talented side they took no points from last season is a marked improvement as the project continues.
Unsurprisingly, Russell Martin made a host of changes from the side that lost to the same opposition on Tuesday night. Zak Jules made his debut after signing on Deadline Day as others who were cup-tied were able to come back into the team.
It would not be an MK Dons match without the men in white conceding early. Charlie Wyke added to his Stadium MK goal just days before by getting on the end of an Aiden McGeady through ball and coolly finishing, left-footed, past the onrushing Andrew Fisher.
Martin would have been extremely unimpressed with his side’s start but would have been equally as delighted with their response. It took just four minutes after conceding for his men to get back on terms as Lee Burge made an excellent double save to deny Scott Fraser and Cameron Jerome but Joe Mason was on hand to stab home a scrappy equaliser.
By the 18th minute, the turnaround was complete as Ethan Laird and Matt O’Riley combined brilliantly on the right to set up Jerome. O’Riley came inside onto that dangerous left foot of his, drilled a teasing ball into the penalty area and the man who could have departed on Deadline Day slid in to give his side the lead.
The Dons were looking very free-flowing going forward but the Black cats were still looking ominous at the other end. On another afternoon, Charlie Wyke could have had a treble by the half-hour mark as loose play at the back gifted him opportunities which he ultimately passed up, whilst Jules came close to a debut goal and only brave goalkeeping from Burge prevented him from nodding home.
Unfortunately, Louis Thompson suffered yet another injury towards the end of the half and Dons fans and staff alike will be hoping that the ailment is not serious. This did facilitate the return of Andrew Surman after a spell on the sidelines of his own.
Half-time: MK Dons 2-1 Sunderland
The hosts started the second period with as much intent as they had in the first half. The ball broke to Mason on the inside-left of the penalty area and the striker slotted it past Burge but Bailey Wright was on hand to make a vital block.
Just as they did at the start of the first half, however, The Dons conceded early in the second. Aiden McGeady’s poor shot from outside the penalty area turned into the perfect pass as it fell straight to Luke O’Nein and the former Wycombe man took it in his stride and finished emphatically.
However, unlike how they reacted to conceding at 1-0, Milton Keynes struggled to get a foothold in the match. Sunderland were looking far more likely to score a fifth goal of the showdown as Lee Johnson’s side were in the ascendency and may have been awarded a penalty as the ball did appear to strike Harry Darling’s raised arm in the 18-yard box.
Extreme controversy reared its head in the 74th minute as O’Nein, already on a booking, cynically felled Laird and for reasons only known to himself, referee Tom Nield elected not to show the Sunderland goalscorer a second yellow card. Just three minutes later, Johnson took the opportunity to pull the tightrope walker out of the game.
The match remained gripping until the very end as both sides spurned chances to snatch all three points. The Dons undoubtedly should have been playing with an extra man for the last 20 minutes of action but the last kick of the match was almost a telling one for the visitors as Fisher did brilliantly to deny a golden chance for McGeady.
Full-time: MK Dons 2-2 Sunderland
Man of the match: Matt O’Riley