Doncaster Rovers swept aside far too easily as Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady make hay in Tom Anderson's absence
Actually, three was all it needed to kill of a surprisingly weak Doncaster. The fourth, like Lee Burge's own goal and penalty saves from Jon Taylor and Jason Lokilo were just window dressing in a 4-1 defeat that could be more damaging psychologically than it was in terms of points or goal difference.
Often with defensive players, you do not fully appreciate them until they are gone.
Few Doncaster fans would under-estimate the value of their warrior centre-back captain Tom Anderson, but when he sat out the trip to the Stadium of Light, he was missed far more than he should have been.
Between the boxes, Doncaster actually played well for half an hour until former Bradford City centre-forward Wyke was able to complete his embarrassingly simple hat-trick and suck all the life out of the visitors.
His seventh-minute opener had been infuriating enough for Darren Moore – like Anderson, the type of centre-back who would head anything which came his way during his playing days. The lack of resistance as he ran onto a corner was alarming, but it was only the start.
Five minutes later McGeady picked the ball up on the right and delivered the ball again. Wyke got far too easily above Cameron John, and again found the net.
The irony is that when Doncaster were on the ball, they actually looked reasonably good, until it came to finding the net.
Taylor Richards in particular was taking the fight to the Black Cats.
Taylor had the first effort of the game, cutting in on his right foot to force a low Lee Burge save. Most of the shooting, though, would be as feeble as the defending.
Richards put a 17th-minute cross just behind Omar Bogle, making his first Rovers start, and the centre-forward was unable to make anything of it.
When Matt Smith picked right-back Brad Halliday with an excellent sweeping pass, the cross was poor. He at least made up for it with a fantastic tackle on Jamie Scowen in the penalty area.
Richards forced another low save coming inside but he could not get a clean touch on his shot after a brilliant turn, just as Taylor could not when picked out by Reece James.
Doncaster were stunned by the third largely because they were convinced Wyke must be offside, so far behind their central defenders was he when he headed in, but they did not realise how deep former Sunderland defender James was.
All hope evaporated at that point, McGeady shooting wide and Ellery Balcombe coming off his line to stop former Rovers loanee Lynden Gooch giving the former Sheffield Wednesday winger's exquisite pass the finish it deserved.
Rovers made a half-time change, bringing on John Bostock, and Richards was quickly involved in the goal his all-round play deserved, hitting a shot against the post which bounced in off Burge.
McGeady just went down the other end and produced another cross for Wyke, whose header deflected pass Balcombe.
There was nearly a third goal in four minutes after Luke O'Nien was penalised for handball, but Burge saved Taylor's penalty with his legs.
Three minutes from time, substitute Lokilo was brought down and immediately grabbed the ball and marched over to the penalty spot. His effort was too close to Burge, who saved again. It summed up a miserable afternoon.
Sunderland: Burge; McLaughlin (Leadbitter 61), Wright, Sanderson, McFadzean; Scowen, Power, O'Nien (Diamond 76); Gooch (O'Brien 76), Wyke, McGeady (Jones 82).
Unused substitutes: Matthews, Neil, Vokins.
Doncaster Rovers: Balcombe; Halliday, Wright, Butler, John (Sims 54); Smith, Gomes (Bostock 46); Taylor (Lokilo 72), Richards (Robertson 72), James; Bogle.
Unused substitutes: Okenabirhie, Jones, Greaves.
Referee: N Hair (Cambridgeshire).
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