Charlie Wyke fires Sunderland to crucial win at AFC Wimbledon with fine hat-trick
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AFC Wimbledon proved stern opponents despite the Black Cats seizing an early lead, and it was a contest in which Sunderland were sternly tested.
The defensive partnership of Jordan Willis and Bailey Wright were forced to absorb plenty of pressure and they did so well, with the visitors taking advantage of some loose play from the hosts late on to secure the posts.
Wtke added two late goals to secure his hat-trick, all of them superb finishes worthy of the three points that lift Sunderland, albeit temporarily, into the play-off spots.
Encouraged by what he had seen in midweek, Lee Johnson had opted to stick with the 4-2-2-2 shape that had booked a place in the last eight of the Papa John’s Trophy, the change allowing Elliot Embleton to keep his place and form an attacking midfield shape with Aiden McGeady.
The Black Cats were without Lynden Gooch after two encouraging performances of late, but started the game brightly and took the lead inside ten minutes.
Embleton carved open the home defence with a clever pass to the right of the six-yard box, where Aiden O’Brien had made a good run beyond his marker. The Irishman opted against a shot and instead cut a low ball across goal, where Charlie Wyke converted with a deft finish.
It was a strong start for the visitors, but as the half developed Wimbledon began to open up space on the counter.
The Black Cats were growing increasingly slack in possession, leaving themselves exposed to the break and on two occasions, it almost cost them. Jack Rudoni was left free at the back post when Sunderland gifted it away, but sliced his volley well wide of the far post. The midfielder had another opening moments later and this time forced a solid stop from Burge, getting down low to his left.
Johnson cut an increasingly frustrated figure in the dugout, urging his side to take better care of possession.
He altered the set up slightly, moving the previously peripheral Aiden McGeady over to the right flank, and it almost yielded a result as Sunderland finished the half much as they had started it.
Wyke got free of his marker inside the box again, and fired a good low cross from the overlapping Max Power over the bar.
McGeady then combined well with the striker to forge an opening inside the box, and this time it was Embleton who fired over as he raced to meet the loose ball.
The break came at a good time for the hosts, who regrouped and began the second half in the ascendancy. On three occassions they opened up space on the edge of the box well, but the long-range efforts were poor and didn’t test Burge.
Sunderland were struggling to impose themselves, reflected in Johnson’s first substitution as Embleton was sacrificed to reinforce the midfield through Carl Winchester.
Johnson’s side continued to labour, but Wimbledon were struggling to turn possession into real chances.
On his return to the league XI, Willis was delivering the kind of commanding performance that underlined his importance to the team.
The points looked to be settled five minutes from time, Grant Leadbitter whipping a corner low to the front post where Wyke thumped a first-time finish into the top corner.
The game broke open from there, Pigott smashing an audacious first-time effort off the inside of the post within minutes.
Sunderland responded in kind, substitute Jack Diamond hitting the post after a fine counter.
The away side looked a threat all of a sudden and Wyke had his third when Scowen played him through with a precise through ball.
The counter was excellent, and Wyke’s finish sublime as chipped the onrushing goalkeeper.
AFC Wimbledon XI: Walker; Coska, Woodyard, Nightingale, Chislett (O’Neill, 83), Rudoni, Oksanen, Guinness-Walker, McLoughlin (Alexander, 83), Longman (Robinson, 83), Pigott
Subs: Tzanev, Hartigan Kalambayi, Reilly
Sunderland XI: Burge; Power, Willis, Wright, McFadzean; Leadbitter, Scowen, Embleton (Winchester, 58), McGeady (Diamond, 73); Wyke, O’Brien (Maguire, 81)
Subs: Matthews, Younger, Maguire, O’Nien, Sanderson
Bookings: Rudoni, 27