Potential Sunderland investors watch on as Chris Maguire steals the show against AFC Wimbledon
Only goal difference separates Sunderland from the top of the table after a commanding win over AFC Wimbledon.
A Chris Maguire hat-trick fired the Black Cats to a comfortable win and they should have scored more, producing by some distance their most fluid and threatening display of the campaign so far.
There had been a palpable sense of excitement on Wearside as kick-off approached, with members of the investment group looking to complete a deal for the club watching on from an executive box.
John Phelan and Robert Platek were both treated to the typically strirring pre-match rendition of ‘wise men say’ as Sunderland started the game on the front foot.
With Charlie Wyke looking increasingly confident, Sunderland weren’t afraid to go direct early and it paid immediate dividends.
In just the eighth minute a precise long pass from Jon McLaughlin was met by a Wimbledon defender, but with Wyke challenging strongly, he could only had back in the direction of his own goal.
Chris Maguire was the quickest to react and though there was plenty to do as he raced in on goal, a clever chip left Nathan Trott watching on helpless as the ball rolled into the back of the net.
Wimbledon were struggling to make any inroads and the Black Cats looked dangerous, that pass through the middle or into the channels causing constant problems.
On numerous occasions a threatening move was just let down by the final pass.
It was Maguire who went closest to making it two, driving wide from the edge of the area after a corner was cleared into his path.
Even if there was little in the way of goalmouth acrion, Sunderland looked in excellent order, which made a soft goal conceded completely against the run of play all the more frustrating.
The home side couldn’t stop a cross from the right wing, and Kwesi Appiah stole in between the two centre-backs to head past McLaughlin, who had no chance of making the save.
Sunderland settled back into their rhythm and went close five minutes before the break when Wyke stopped to meet a Grant Leadbitter corner, his effort bouncing into the ground and just over the bar.
Maguire went close with an excellent free-kick from distance on the stroke of half-time, Trott stood still as it flashed past his post.
They started the second half in similarly confident vein style, almost carving an opening as O’Nien played a good pass to release Maguire in the channel. He cut the ball back and the defence did well to block Wyke’s first-time effort.
Minutes later Lynden Gooch saw an effort blocked after Aiden McGeady did well to get to the byline and find him with a pass inside.
The pressure quickly drew a reward, with Trott flapping at a corner whipped in close to his goal. Maguire raced onto the loose ball and struck it at the edge of the area, finding the net with the aid of a significant deflection.
Sunderland were completely dominant now and should have made it three just moments later as Maguire stole the ball, releasing McGeady who drove forward.
His pass across the box found Wyke, who steadied before firing an effort that was too close to Trott.
Ross moved to try and make the dominance pay, bringing on Will Grigg for the final 30 minutes.
They continued to carve Wimbledon open, somewhow unable to convert as Ozturk met a Leadbitter cross at the back post. Wyke’s backheel was just blocked, and Jordan Willis just couldn’t get enough contact to drag it over the line.
Some excellent football almost got Grigg in the scoresheet soon after, the striker released by a good ball into the channel from Denver Hume.
He did well to shield it and get inside his marker, dragging his effort just back across the post.
That inability to turn dominance into goals will have increased nerves but the home side continued to press and got their rewards when Grigg again made a good run in the box, teeing up O’Nien who crossed into a dangerous area.
Maguire stooped to head home and seal his hat-trick.
The Black Cats saw out the game with few issues to leap towards the top of the table.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; O’Nien, Ozturk, Willis, Hume; Leadbitter, Power( McGeouch, 67) ; Gooch (Grigg, 57), Maguire (Dobson, 81) McGeady; Wyke
Subs: Burge, McLaughlin, Flanagan, Embleton
Wimbledon XI: Trott, O’Neill, McDonald, Thomas, Wagstaff, Hartigan, Appiah, Folivi (Connolly, 61), Guiness-Walker, Kalambayi (Nightingale, 60), Reilly (Pinnock, 78)
Subs: Tzanev, Roscrow, Pinnock, Connolly, McLoughlin, Pigott
Bookings: Power, 35 Appiah, 65