Sunderland 4-1 Rochdale
Sunderland's front three were in scintillating form on Saturday afternoon, as a first-half blitz condemned Rochdale to a heavy defeat at the Stadium of Light.
Chris Maguire produced one of his best performance in red and white following a return to the starting XI, as Lynden Gooch and Josh Maja both notched twice.
It was a ruthless eight-minute spell before the interval that put the Lads firmly in command, as Maja scored his sixth and seventh goals of the campaign either side of Gooch’s penalty.
The USA international grabbed his second of the afternoon following the restart, before Matthew Done pulled one back.
But all in all, it was the perfect response following last weekend’s defeat.
Jack Ross made four changes at the SoL, as the Lads lined up in a 5-3-2 formation.
Tom Flanagan came into a three-man central defence alongside Jack Baldwin and Glenn Loovens, while Denver Hume and Gooch started in the wing-back positions.
Up top, Maguire’s Pirelli Stadium screamer was rewarded with a place in the starting XI, as Dylan McGeouch was fit to face the Dale.
The system was immediately evident as Gooch provided a superb outlet every time the Lads came out of their defensive third, as Maguire also made a lively start to proceedings.
Both sides failed to conjure up a meaningful opportunity in the opening 20 minutes, though, as numerous set pieces went to waste at either end.
The first real opportunity fell to the visitors as the Black Cats were caught napping, but Wilbraham blazed high and wide when he should have, at the very least, tested Jon McLaughlin.
With 35 minutes played, Sunderland’s first clear-cut chance arrived, but after ghosting past his man and dinking the ball across the face of goal, nobody was on hand to turn Gooch’s inventive play into the net.
But when you need a goal, just call Maja.
Attacking from the opposite flank this time, Maguire picked out the unmarked striker and he guided a pinpoint header into the bottom corner.
Maja then turned creator, holding up the ball well and finding Gooch, who won and converted a penalty to make it 2-0 to Sunderland with 40 minutes on the clock.
Rochdale tested McLaughlin before the interval, but the stopper came out on top to palm Samuel Hart’s fizzing free-kick to safety.
And it was game over moments later, as Maja’s sublime first touch preceded another emphatic finish from the EFL Young Player of the Month.
Rochdale rallied following the restart, but McLaughlin had other ideas and produced a sensational double save, denying Calvin Andrew before clawing Ian Henderson’s header off the line.
The Lads continued to carry more of a threat than their counterparts, though, as Hume and Cattermole both fired off target.
And Gooch made no such mistake on 67 minutes, cutting in from the left and powering a low finish beyond Joshua Lillis for Sunderland’s fourth of the afternoon.
Rochdale pulled one back through substitute Done soon after, but it did little to take the gloss off an emphatic and comfortable win for the Lads.
Next stop, Coventry City.
Sunderland: McLaughlin, Loovens, Baldwin, Flanagan, Hume, Cattermole, MeGeouch, Honeyman, Gooch (Oviedo 85), Maguire (McGeady 72), Maja (Sinclair 69).
Substitutes: Ruiter, Matthews, O’Nien, James.
Rochdale: Lillis, Rafferty, Delaney, McGahey, Andrew, Camps, Rathbone (Adshead 62), Wilbraham (Done 62), Hart, Gillam (Williams 54), Henderson.
Substitutes: McNulty, Perkins, Moore, Matheson.