Rovers still go in search of a win at the Stadium of Light as four Charlie Wyke goals ensure Darren Moore’s men suffer defeat in the North East.
A combination of Aiden McGeady and Charlie Wyke bore fruit four times as Rovers slipped to consecutive defeats for the first time since October.
Wyke’s first-half hat-trick had given Rovers a mountain to climb but an own goal by keeper Lee Burge early in the second half had provided a glimmer of hope before Wyke and McGeady combined for a fourth.
A better second 45 saw Rovers win two penalties, but they were unable to convert either and ultimately Sunderland were able to see out the game.
Moore made five changes to the side that lost out to Fleetwood Town in midweek with Omar Bogle, Jon Taylor, Madger Gomes, Taylor Richards and Joe Wright all getting starts. Wright was also given the armband in the absence of Tom Anderson who misses out due to a concussion sustained on Tuesday evening.
Wyke gave Sunderland the lead within seven minutes of the start heading in from Aiden McGeady’s corner.
It was the home side’s first shot on target after a relatively even start to the match, but Sunderland took charge of the game from that point on and just five minutes later the combination of McGeady and Wyke struck again.
McGeady got the better of Brad Halliday down Rovers right and dinked an inviting ball into the box – Wyke was quickest to react and headed beyond Balcombe from close range.
Rovers had a better period of play around the twenty-minute mark but - while Richards’ mazy runs were causing the Black Cats some problems - the only time Rovers tested Lee Burge was Richards’ softly hit shot towards the near post.
Taylor could and probably should have got one back in this period – Reece James and Cameron John linked up well down the right – with the former Sunderland man’s cross evading everyone and finding Taylor at the back post in time and space but he skewed the shot wide of the mark.
Despite better play from Rovers, Sunderland and Wyke were able to get a third just on after the half-hour mark with McGeady once again finding Sunderland’s no.9 free in the box to head home his hat-trick. The striker had looked some way offside but it seemed a mis-communication at the back meant James had dropped back playing him on.
The home side could have extended their lead further just before half time with McGeady at the heart of things again. This time, he played a delightful ball into the path of former Rovers loanee Lynden Gooch who was one-on-one with Ellery Balcombe. There was another question of offside, but it didn’t matter as the Brentford-loanee was quick off his line and stuck out a right leg to keep him out.
Moore made a change at half-time with Gomes making way for John Bostock and he had a good early involvement linking up with James to get a ball into Richards in the Sunderland box. He was blocked from reaching the ball and while the challenge put him on the floor – he was never going to get the penalty he wanted.
More good play afforded Matt Smith an effort which was blocked and better play from Rovers earned them a goal when Richards’ effort from the edge of the box came off the post hit Burge on the back which took it in.
Hopes of an unlikely comeback were immediately thwarted as the McGeady-cross-Wyke-header combination earned the home side a fourth.
A breathless ten minutes of football was to continue when a Sunderland defender went down under the challenge of Richards and – presumably thinking he was to be awarded a free-kick - chose to grab the ball with his hand in his own penalty box. Referee Neil Hair pointed to the spot.
Taylor’s effort from 12-yards went down the middle, but it hit the feet of Burge and careened over the crossbar proving it wasn’t to be the no.11’s day.
It was a much improved second half performance from Rovers though Sunderland had no desire to do any more than they were doing and while Rovers were certainly brighter and created more chances than they had in the first - shots from Bogle, James and Bostock were all off target.
Jason Lokilo – who looked bright after his introduction with fifteen minutes to go – used some trickery to unleash an effort but Burge saved, and he was involved again as he won his side a penalty with just a few minutes remaining. Once again, the penalty was down the middle and once again Burge saved.