Sunderland 2-0 Plymouth Argyle
Sunderland picked up their third consecutive win on Saturday, as Plymouth Argyle were defeated at the Stadium of Light.
Lee Cattermole’s classy finish opened the scoring on Wearside, but the Lads were made to wait for a decisive second.
Argyle created chances following the restart but, in truth, were second best throughout, and George Honeyman ended the contest with 88 minutes on the clock.
Next stop, Bristol Rovers, with one game separating the Black Cats from Wembley.
Jack Ross made one change from the side that defeated Bristol Rovers, as on-loan Celtic winger Lewis Morgan replaced Duncan Watmore in the starting XI.
And the winger made a lively start to proceedings, seeing an effort charged down and deflected wide after linking well with Honeyman.
Plymouth’s top scorer, Freddie Ladapo, was a reportedly a doubt heading into the game, but he showed no signs of weakness early on, as he forced the first save of the afternoon.
Clear-cut openings were scarce in the stages that followed, with both sides opting to be conservative in possession rather than risking it all.
However, Sunderland saw much more of the ball as the half progressed, and Argyle simply couldn’t get close enough to Grant Leadbitter and Aiden McGeady.
The duo bossed the game and created multiple openings, with Jimmy Dunne’s header caught by Kyle Letheren before McGeady’s low drive forced the ‘keeper into a diving save.
Eventually, the mounting pressure told and with 32 minutes on the clock, Cattermole thumped the Lads into the lead.
Morgan provided the assist, nipping in to win the ball back in the area before pulling it back into the mix, but from there it was all about Cattermole, who took one touch before finding the top corner.
Argyle remained on the back foot for the remainder of the opening period, and somehow, they only found themselves 1-0 down at the interval.
In added time, McGeady was denied one on one before testing Letheren for a second time, and the stopper was on top form to deny Will Grigg from point-blank range before the half-time whistle.
Plymouth turned the screw a little following the restart, and visitors were adamant they should have been awarded a penalty before the hour mark.
After wriggling between Luke O’Nien and Morgan, Gary Sawyer’s fierce effort was blocked behind by Tom Flanagan, but despite it appearing to strike the defender’s arm, the referee waved play on.
A let-off perhaps, but it simply fuelled Argye’s desire to find a route back into the game, as Ashley Smith-Brown fizzed an effort wide before McLaughlin denied David Fox and Oscar Threlkeld blazed into the side-netting.
Ross’ first change followed shortly after, with the impressive Morgan replaced by Duncan Watmore.
The winger’s fresh legs provided a lift and hard running led to Honeyman volleying off target, with similarly tenacious play from Reece James resulting in Grigg’s glancing header dropping just wide.
Argyle were also forced into a goalkeeping swap in the latter stages, as Letheren limped off and was replaced by Matt Macey.
But there was nothing the stand-in stopper could do to deny Sunderland a second, with Honeyman smashing a low finish into the net after scintillating build-up play from McGeady.
That proved to be that, and it’s on to the next one.
Sunderland: McLaughlin, Dunne, Flanagan, O’Nien, James, Leadbitter, Cattermole, Honeyman, Morgan (Watmore 65), McGeady (Gooch 90), Grigg (Wyke 90).
Substitutes: Ruiter, Matthews, Ozturk, Power.
Plymouth Argyle: Letheren (Macey 80), Sawyer, Songo’o, Edwards, Fox, Carey, Lameiras (Anderson 80), Canavan, Ladapo, Smith-Brown, Smith-Brown, Threlkeld (Taylor (69).
Subs not used: Roley, Ness, Jones, Wootton.