Sunderland climb into League One play-off places after late winner sinks MK Dons
A stunning strike from Lynden Gooch won three crucial points for Sunderland at Stadium MK.
A tight contest was finely poised when the in-form forward made the defining contribution, curling a glorious effort into the top corner from range and sending the near 5,000 travelling supporters into delirium.
It was not as free-flowing a performance as Phil Parkinson’s side have produced of late, but the result was another vital win that keeps the Black Cats firmly in the promotion hunt.
Sunderland had come into the game full of confidence from a fine run of form, the gap to the top of the table beginning to look considerably less daunting.
MK Dons, though, were enjoying something of a revival of their own.
Though they were beaten by Burton in midweek, they had dominated the game and a tough run of recent fixtures had produced a points haul that belied their troubled league position.
Under new manager Russell Martin they have caught the eye with their passing style and from the off, it had the look of a very even contest.
The Black Cats had the best early chance, created by the pressing game that has caused so many problems for their opponents of late.
Like Lincoln and Wycombe before them, MK Dons played themselves into troubled and Chris Maguire looked to pounce, his effort from distance flashing just over the crossbar.
The home side steadied, but Sunderland missed a glorious opening to get themselves ahead a quarter of an hour in. Maguire floated a free kick to the back post, where a diving Luke O’Nien nodded it across goal and into a dangerous area. Alim Ozturk looked certain to score his first goal for the Black Cats, but could only turn wide of the far post.
Martin’s side began to play with real composure and as the half developed, they began to control possession and play most of the game in Sunderland’s half.
They pressed with intent and came close when Joel Lynch tried to release Lynden Gooch down the left.
The home side pounced on the loose pass and broke quickly, Rhys Healey breaking into the box and doing well to escape the attentions of Max Power. His low drive across goal had Jon McLaughlin worried briefly, but flashed wide of the far post.
Shortly after Healey again showed excellent control to get free in the box, his effort this time deflected wide by Denver Hume.
Sunderland were offering little from open play, seeing little of the ball as the impressivre Jordan Houghton rotated possession well for his team.
They were left bemoaning their lack of end of product, McLaughlin untested throughout the half even as his side made little impression on the contest.
Sunderland began the second half with far greater intent and passed up an outstanding opening to take the lead.
Goalkeeper Lee Nicholls misjudged a ball through the middle, and Gooch, far quieter than in recent games, found himself in a glorious position. His effort was turned off the line, and remarkably, the home defence then denied Charlie Wyke with an almost identical block.
Both teams had upped the tempo considerably, Nicholls then making a tremendous stop as Maguire curled a free kick towards the top corner in trademark fashion.
Set pieces continued to be a major source of the away side’s threat and they missed another opening when O’Nien headed into the side netting. It almost proved costly, MK Dons sweeping down the other end and going close when Dean Lewington hit a superb effort just wide of the post.
With the contest finely poised, Parkinson threw on Kyle Lafferty in search of a winner and barely a minute into his debut, he went close with an effort from the edge of the area that dipped just over the bar.
Moments later, the Black Cats had their goal.
They took a quick free kick down the right and Gooch cut inside. In trademark fashion, he unfurled a stunning effort that left Nichools with no chance.
It could have been over shortly after following another good set play, Ozturk this time turning his effort over the bar from close range.
George Williams went close in the final moments with a header from a corner but in truth, Sunderland never looked in danger as they saw the contest out.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; O’Nien, Willis, Ozturk, Lynch, Hume; Power, Dobson; Gooch, Maguire, Wyke (Lafferty, 77)
Subs: Burge, McLaughlin, McNulty, Flanagan, Watmore, Leadbitter
MK Dons XI: Nicholls; Brittain, Williams, Walsh, Lewington; Kasumu (Thompson, 63), Houghton, McGrandles (Gladwin, 72); Healey, Morris (Nombe, 81), Mason
Subs: Moore, Poole, Moore-Taylor, Cargill
Bookings: Kasumu, 18 Dobson, 26 Ozturk, 67 Gooch, 80 Healey, 89 Maguire, 90
Attendance: 13, 327