Story of the game as Oxford United knock Sunderland out of Carabao Cup on penalties
Sunderland were knocked out of the Carabao Cup on penalties after a shootout misses from Will Grigg and Marc McNulty.
The Black Cats had fought back from a Rob Hall goal to come close to snatching the win in normal time, with McNulty equalising and Luke O’Nien seeing a strong penalty shout turned down in the closing moments.
But four superb penalties from Karl Robinson’s side secured a place in the last eight and made it three defeats from four games for Phil Parkinson.
Parkinson had been forced into a significant reshuffle, with Chris Maguire suspended and Lynden Gooch still sidelined with an ankle injury.
After choosing to rest Will Grigg and Luke O’Nien, the Black Cats boss set his side up with a midfield diamond in front of a back five, Aiden McGeady playing in a central role and with Denver Hume given licence to drive forward on the left.
Marc McNulty led the line and almost got his side in the lead just a minute in, alert to a long ball over the top from Tom Flanagan and dragging his effort just wide of the far post. Hume collected the loose ball and drove towards goal, but his low cross was just cut out by the home defence.
The two sides quickly began to cancel each other out, both more comfortable playing on the counter than trying to control possession.
Oxford in particular looked a threat down their left side, with both winger Tariqe Fosu and midfielder Shandon Baptiste showing good energy and composure in possession.
Their first significant chance came 23 minutes in, the home side building possession up well down the right. Rob Hall put a good cross in towards the back post, but Fosu could only fire into the side netting as Jon McLaughlin came off his line to narrow the angle.
They take the lead just two minutes later, but not before Sunderland hit the woodwork themselves.
Comfortably their best player in possession, Grant Leadbitter released Marc McNulty with a fine ball behind the defence. From a similar position to his earlier effort, McNulty this time hit the foot of the post. Oxford broke up the pitch at pace, working the ball again into Fosu on the left. He cut inside but just couldn’t get his shot away. His pass to tee up Henry was just too strong, but Hall gathered and curled a fine effort into the top corner.
They looked like they could double their advantage shortly after when Baptiste used his body well to win possession, before spinning away from two defenders on the edge of the area. Just as he looked set to get a shot away, he lost his footing and the chance was gone.
Sunderland were struggling to create chances, too often firing long balls forward that the home defence could deal with easily.
They ought to have equalised just before the break nevertheless, Leadbitter again freeing McNulty with a good pass. McNulty’s cross was perfect, but Max Power somehow turned his effort wide on his weaker foot a matter of yards from the goal.
The second half began with little again between the two sides, though the Black Cats were relieved when Baptiste broke into the box and turned a cross from Hall just wide of the post on his right foot.
Parkinson moved quickly to try and get some more attacking threat in his side, with Will Grigg replacing Joel Lynch and joining McNulty up front.
They immediately carried more of a threat, but Oxford also now found themselves with plenty of space on the counter. They came close to doubling their advantage when Fosu spun away from Leadbitter, releasing Baptiste in space down the left. He played a one-two with Taylor before thumping a good effort on goal, denied by a smart stop from McLaughlin.
Simon Eastwood was untroubled at the other end, watching McGeady fire wide after a poor pass from Baptiste straight into the Irishman’s feet.
Parkinson turned again to his bench, bringing on O’Nien at left-back.
Sunderland began to enjoy some much-needed time in the opposition half and came close when a cross from George Dobson, now operating on the right of midfield, was deflected onto the far post.
After being isolated for much of the contest, McGeady was beginning to offer a threat and it was his crunching tackle that forced the corner that would get his side level.
Leadbitter’s delivery was turned towards the back post where McNulty showed good awareness to control and turn home.
They were within inches of going ahead just minutes later, Grigg just unable to gather a low cross from McLaughlin. The loose ball fell for McNulty but Eastwood was just able to turn wide.
Oxford were struggling to get out of their own half, susbtitute Jamie Mackie turning a cross wide in what was a rare attack as Sunderland piled the pressure on in the latter stages.
They were furious when referee Stephen Martin failed to award a penalty as O’Nien burst into the box, seemingly tripped over as he closed in on goal.
That was the last meaningful action of the game that went straight to penalties.
Power and O’Nien scored their efforts but misses from Grigg, who fired over the bar, and McNulty, who forced a good low save from Eastwood, sent the Black Cats out of the competition.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; McLaughlin, Flanagan, Willis, Lynch (Grigg, 54), Hume (O’Nien, 67); Power, Leadbitter, Dobson; McGeady, McNulty
Subs: Patterson, Kimpioka, Taylor, Connelly, McGeouch
Oxford United XI: Eastwood; Ruffels, Dickie, Moore, Long; Hall (Forde, 80), Baptiste (Mousinho, 90), Gorrin, Henry, Fosu; Taylor (Mackie, 80)
Subs: Stevens, Sykes, Aygei, Jones
Attendance: 11,108 (1,269 away)