SUNDERLAND staged a dramatic late comeback to progress into the Capital One Cup third round after coming from two goals down against MK Dons.
Paolo Di Canio’s side were facing Stadium of Light humiliation against the League One outfit after Patrick Bamford’s first half strike was doubled by Izale McLeod after the break.
But substitute Connor Wickham turned the game in Sunderland’s favour, with the England Under-21s striker making one and scoring two in a stunning 12-minute spell.
Wickham fed Jozy Altidore for the American international’s first goal in Sunderland colours in the 78th minute, before he found the net himself with an 86th minute equaliser from Ondrej Celustka’s cross.
A fortunate third then arrived with a minute remaining of normal time when Wickham’s shot from the edge of the area took a huge deflection and nestled in the far corner.
Adam Johnson completed the 4-2 win in stoppage time when he smashed the ball home from an impossible angle on the right-hand touchline.
Paolo Di Canio made six changes from the weekend’s draw at Southampton, with Vito Mannone and David Moberg-Karlsson both handed their Sunderland debuts.
Cabral, Valentin Roberge, David Vaughan and Ji Dong-won were also introduced, with Stephane Sessegnon, Craig Gardner, Modibo Diakite and Emanuele Giaccherini left out entirely and Seb Larsson and Keiren Westwood dropped to the bench.
There was also a place among the substitutes for Steven Fletcher after five months on the sidelines with an ankle injury, while new signing Charis Mavrias was included on the bench too.
MK Dons boss Karl Robinson also made six changes to the side, with former Newcastle United man Alan Smith included in the starting line-up.
It was the visitors who took a shock seventh minute lead after Ji Dong-won gave the ball away cheaply midway inside the Sunderland half.
Dele Alli fed Patrick Bamford on the edge of the Black Cats area and his right-footed shot wrong-footed Vito Mannone, who was caught out at his near post.
Three minutes later, MK Dons almost doubled their advantage when Stephen Gleeson whipped in a free-kick from the left flank, which glanced off the head of Cabral.
The ball was heading towards the far corner, but at full-stretch, Mannone managed to parry it away superbly.
MK Dons went perilously close to doubling their advantage again in the 19th minute when Izale McLeod got in behind the two Sunderland centre-halves.
McLeod burst away from those tracking back, but from the edge of the area, the frontman scuffed his left-foolted shot a yard wide of the post.
Moberg-Karlsson struck a shot on the turn two yards wide of the far post in the 25th minute after inadvertantly taking Jack Colback’s drive effort under control.
A minute before the break, Sunderland created by far their best effort of the first half when Jack Colback teed up Jozy Altidore on the far left-hand side of the area.
Altidore let fly with a powerful right-footed shot across goal which crashed back off the inside of the far post, with Moberg-Karlsson unable to scramble home the rebound.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 MK Dons 1
MK Dons went close again just a minute into the second half when Gleeson unleashed a right-footed drive from 20 yards which cleared the bar by inches.
But in the 55th minute, a second did arrive for the visitors after Cabral cheaply gave the ball straight to Alli, who played a first-time pass in behind the Sunderland defence for McLeod.
McLeod had no-one in close attention and kept his composure superbly to lift the ball over Mannone into the net.
Sunderland almost pulled a goal back immediately when Moberg-Karlsson met Johnson’s cross 12 yards out, but saw his shot pushed away by Ian McLoughlin.
The hosts re-grouped and Altidore picked out the overlapping Colback whose driven cross was directed high and wide by substitute Connor Wickham.
Sunderland went close again in the 68th minute when Johnson robbed left-back Ben Reeves, drove inside from the right, but his shot towards the far corner was blocked well by McLoughlin.
Di Canio’s side finally did halve the deficit in the 77th minute when Wickham sent Altidore clean through on goal with a first-time half-volley.
Altidore kept his composure as he raced into the area and slotted a right-footed shot beyond McLoughlin into the far corner.
Wickham then turned from provider to scorer in the 86th minute, with his first Sunderland goal since January.
Substitute Seb Larsson picked out Johnson on the right-hand side of the area and the winger fed Celustka on the overlap.
The Czech delivered a low cross into the six-yard box and Wickham was there to squeeze the ball inside the near post.
Three minutes later, Sunderland were ahead, albeit with more than a touch of fortune.
Wickham scuffed a right-footed shot from the edge of the area which took a huge deflection off Ben Reeves - wrong-footing McLoughlin as the ball rolled into the far corner.
Sunderland then sealed their passage in the sixth minute of stoppage time when Johnson burst down the right flank and smashed the ball across McLoughlin from an impossible angle on the right-hand touchline.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 4 MK Dons 2
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Celustka, Roberge, O’Shea, Colback, Moberg-Karlsson (Mavrias 65), Vaughan, Cabral (Larsson 61), Johnson, Ji (Wickham 49), Altidore. Subs not used: Westwood, Fletcher, Ba, Cuellar. Booked: Johnson (90)
MK DONS: McLoughlin, Williams, Gleeson, Smith, Reeves, McLeod (Chadwick 82), Alli, Bamford (Otsembor 66), G Baldock, Carruthers (Banton 66), Kay. Subs not used: Burns, Hodson, Chadwick, Galloway, Rasulo. Booked: Bamford (9), Baldock (28), McLoughlin (86)