STUNNERS from Craig Gardner and James McClean secured 10-man Sunderland’s place in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup.
But victory came at a cost after Lee Cattermole was handed a straight red card which will rule the Sunderland skipper out of next month’s Wear-Tyne derby due to the subsequent three-game ban.
Martin O’Neill’s men looked like they were facing an uphill battle after Cattermole was dismissed in a dull first half after losing control of the ball and lunging in on MK Dons right-back Adam Chicksen.
But with the hosts struggling to convert their numerical superiority into chances, it was Sunderland who booked their place in the last 16 of the competition with two second-half goals.
Craig Gardner handed the visitors the lead with a swerving free-kick from 25 yards, reminiscent of his goal in last season’s 4-0 victory at Wigan.
And James McClean sealed victory in the 82nd minute when he concluded a jinking individual run with a drilled shot into the far corner.
David Meyler, Louis Saha, David Vaughan, Matt Kilgallon were all handed their first starts of the season for Sunderland while Keiren Westwood replaced Simon Mignolet in goal.
Meyler partnered Kilgallon in an unfamiliar central defensive role while Vaughan came into midfield and Saha took Steven Fletcher’s spot up front.
There was also a welcome inclusion on the bench as Adam Johnson returned from a thigh injury.
The hosts made four changes to the side which won 4-1 at Bury last weekend, with Ian McLoughlin, Adam Chicksen, Daniel Powell and former Newcastle United man Alan Smith all included in the starting line-up.
A Stephane Sessegnon shot from 20 yards straight at goalkeeper Ian McLoughlin and an even more speculative effort from distance from Luke Chadwick at the other end, which drifted well wide, was the sum total of the action in early stages.
Sunderland eventually burst into life as an attacking force in the 19th minute when James McClean collected the ball on the left-hand touchline, surrounded by three men.
The Irish winger beat all three before he was tackled on the edge of the area by Shaun Williams. The ball fell to Saha, 20 yards out, who hit a first-time left-footed shot that was beaten away by McLoughlin.
Sunderland suffered a major blow in the 31st minute though after Lee Cattermole was handed his marching orders.
The Black Cats skipper had burst forward from his own half on a driving run, but he overran the ball and lunged into Adam Chicksen with his studs showing as he tried to regain it.
Referee Stuart Atwell showed no hesitation and immediately produced a straight red card for the 24-year-old.
Darren Potter tried his luck for the hosts seven minutes into the second half when he let fly with a low drive from 25 yards that Westwood pushed around the post.
But it was the 10 men of Sunderland who broke the deadlock after McClean was fouled by Anthony Kay 25 yards out.
Gardner stepped up and hit a right-footed free-kick which completely deceived McLoughlin by the swerve inflight and the ball nestled in the keeper’s top left-hand corner.
Darren Powell shot just wide of the far post at the other end moments later, when he hit a curling right-footed effort from inside the D.
James McClean went close with another Sunderland free-kick in the 64th minute – letting fly with a skidding effort from 25 yards which just bounced the wrong side of the post.
MK Dons had struggled to get in behind Sunderland, but they managed to cause a moment of panic in the 80th minute when substitute Charlie Macdonald crossed low from the right.
The ball was met at the near post by Dean Bowditch who could only steer his effort wide of the mark.
But two minutes later, Sunderland secured their passage into the fourth round with another superb goal.
McClean collected the ball midway inside his own half before embarking upon a a snaking run inside and outside of Kay before firing a low left-footed shot across McLoughlin into the far corner.
MK DONS: McLoughlin, Lewington, Williams, Gleeson, Potter, Bowditch, Smith (Macdonald 62), Chicksen, Powell (O’Shea 77), Kay, Chadwick (Lowe 63). Subs not used: Burns, Doumbe, Alli, Spence. Booked: Kay (54)
SUNDERLAND: Westwood, Rose, Meyler, Kilgallon, Gardner, McClean, Colback, Cattermole, Vaughan, Sessegnon (Johnson 85), Saha. Subs not used: Mignolet, Campbell, Wickham, Ji, Fletcher, Egan. Sent off: Cattermole (31). Booked: Colback (86)
Referee: Stuart Atwell (Warwickshire)