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Sunderland leap forward in League Cup despite Cattermole's dismissal
Final Score: MK Dons 0 Sunderland 2
MILTON Keynes' most famous sporting son is Olympic long jump gold medallist Greg Rutherford, and last night Sunderland left the Buckinghamshire town having taken a major leap towards a success of their own in the Capital One Cup.
Second-half goals from Craig Gardner and James McClean earned the ten-man Black Cats a 2-0 victory that took them into the League Cup fourth round for the first time in three seasons.
The double enabled Martin O'Neill's side to overcome the 31st-minute dismissal of skipper Lee Cattermole , who saw red for the fifth time in his Sunderland career as he lunged into MK Dons defender Adam Chicksen after losing control of the ball close to the centre-circle.
Cattermole's departure should have made it a difficult night for the Wearsiders, who were without five of the players that started last weekend's draw at West Ham, but with David Meyler and Matt Kilgallon outstanding as an unorthodox centre-half pairing, the visitors enjoyed a surprisingly trouble-free night.
Gardner's fantastic long-range free-kick was the perfect way to start the second half, and McClean's well-worked strike ruled out any risk of a nervy finale with eight minutes left. Sunderland ended the game as they had started it, in complete control against their League One opponents, but that was no thanks to Cattermole, who received the seventh red card of his professional career in the 31st minute.
The skipper's disciplinary record has been a source of fevered debate ever since he left Wigan three summers ago, with last night's dismissal meaning he has now received at least one red card in each of his four seasons as a Sunderland player.
Having embarked on a dribble through the heart of the MK Dons midfield, Cattermole overran the ball and conceded possession to Chicksen. He should have conceded defeat at that stage, but instead lunged into his opponent in a futile attempt to atone for his error.
Chicksen crumpled in a heap, and referee Stuart Atwell had no alternative to a straight red card. Cattermole can claim that a mixture of enthusiasm and momentum carried him into his opponent, but it was an unnecessary dismissal to go with so many of his previous misdemeanours.
For all the well-meaning talk of not wanting to curb the 24-year-old's aggression, at some stage he is surely going to have to temper his approach. He will pay a high price for last night's rush of blood as he will miss next month's Wear-Tyne derby with Newcastle if, as expected, he receives a three-match ban.
His dismissal completely overshadowed an otherwise unremarkable first half that saw Louis Saha fashion a couple of decent openings as he made his first start since joining Sunderland as a free agent last month.
The Frenchman drilled a low shot straight at Ian McLoughlin before shuffling the ball adroitly on the edge of the penalty area and firing just wide of the target from 20 yards.
That was pretty much it in terms of Sunderland's first-half attacking threat, with McClean struggling to make an impact on the right-hand side and David Vaughan failing to make an impression at the heart of midfield.
MK Dons, who fielded former Newcastle veteran Alan Smith as a lone striker, were no more threatening, despite being faced with a makeshift Black Cats back four that featured Meyler, who made a surprise appearance at centre-half.
In the absence of Titus Bramble and John O'Shea, who remained on Wearside to nurse minor knocks, the Republic of Ireland international partnered Kilgallon and turned in a composed display.
Stephen Gleeson fired in a 23rd minute half-volley that failed to find the target, while Darren Potter drilled wide shortly before half-time, but when it was 11 versus 11, Sunderland always appeared in control.
The question for the final hour was whether they could retain their supremacy with a man less on the field, but their task became simpler when Gardner broke the deadlock in spectacular fashion nine minutes after the break.
Antony Kay's foul on McClean gave the Midlander an opportunity almost 30 yards out, and he made the most of it with a vicious, swirling effort that flew past a stunned McLoughlin.
The strike was reminiscent of a number of Cristiano Ronaldo's set-pieces for Manchester United, with the ball appearing to swerve in the wrong direction as it dipped in the air.
The goal came just two minutes after Keiren Westwood had made his first meaningful save of the evening, tipping Potter's low drive around the post, and was almost followed by another set-piece success.
McClean had McLoughlin scrambling again in the 65th minute, but his curled effort whistled just past the outside of the post.
Nevertheless, Sunderland's willingness to attack with ten men was commendable and prevented MK Dons from building up the kind of head of steam their manager, Karl Robinson, would surely have anticipated in the wake of Cattermole's departure.
The hosts never looked like getting back on level terms, and their defeat was confirmed when McClean scored his third League Cup goal of the season with eight minutes left.
The Irishman, who had been reasonably quiet to that stage, took two defenders out of the game as he dribbled into the area and drilled a precise low strike into the far corner of the net.
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