SOMETIMES, class makes all the difference. With Sunderland toiling towards yet another 1-1 draw after ceding yet another lead at Accrington Stanley, Aiden McGeady left the substitutes’ bench with 21 minutes of his side’s Carabao Cup first-round tie remaining. Ten minutes later, and he was wheeling away in celebration after scoring a wonderful winner. At the Wham Stadium, McGeady was happy to say, ‘I’m Your Man’.

The winger danced past three defenders before caressing a clinical finish into the corner of the net, securing Sunderland a place in the League Cup second round and lifting at least some of the pressure off the manager who sent him on. Jack Ross needs some league wins to properly quell the dissent that has mounted in the first two weeks of the season, but a victory of any kind is a start.

Sunderland’s success had looked in jeopardy when Colby Bishop’s second-half penalty cancelled out Marc McNulty’s first-half opener, with the Black Cats’ first-half assurance having ebbed away in the face of some mounting Accrington pressure.

The prospect of penalties was looming large, but McGeady’s moment of magic ensured the night would end without a need for spot-kicks. Things got even better in stoppage time, with Charlie Wyke turning home McNulty’s low cross to provide some welcome breathing space.

Should the early rounds of the Carabao Cup and Trophy (the new incarnation of the Checkatrade) be a priority for Sunderland? Last season, the club’s progression to Wembley resulted in a fixture pile-up that proved costly as their form stalled in the second half of the season.

Ross would no doubt rather avoid any similar congestion this term, but when you have failed to claim a victory in either of your opening two matches, needs must. The absence of any Under-23 players in last night’s starting line-up told its own story – this was a game Ross could ill afford to lose with the pressure on his own position mounting. A strong team produced a welcome result.

Experience was the order of the day, and it had a steadying effect. Alim Ozturk returned to a remodelled back four – Ross’ experiment with three centre-halves lasted just two games – and provided the kind of rugged physicality that had proved so useful in the final few weeks of last season. Grant Leadbitter knitted things together as he made his first appearance of the campaign at the heart of midfield, and alongside him, the recalled Max Power added some welcome energy and intent. Ross might be reluctant to go with a straight-forward 4-4-2, but this was undoubtedly the most balanced Sunderland had looked all season.

It helped that they had an early lead to hold on to, with McNulty claiming his first Sunderland goal since his summer move from Reading shortly after the quarter-hour mark. Lynden Gooch threatened with a curled second-minute shot that was straight at Accrington goalkeeper Dimitar Evtimov, and the visitors’ bright early play was rewarded when McNulty rounded off an excellent move.

Maguire laid Power’s fizzed through ball into the loanee’s path, and he slotted home a precise low finish from the right-hand side of the box. Having scored a hatful of goals with Coventry City to earn his move to Reading, McNulty’s attempt to resurrect his career after a difficult time at the Madejski Stadium is up and running.

Power shot wide from distance shortly after, and with Sunderland boasting plenty of fluidity in their attacking as Maguire and Gooch swapped flanks, Will Grigg went close to doubling the Black Cats’ lead shortly before the break.

The striker stole ahead of his marker to meet Maguire’s low cross, but his instinctive finish was aimed too close to Evtimov, who was able to block.

Accrington’s first-half attacking tended to falter whenever the hosts approached the Sunderland box, with Ozturk combining effectively with Jordan Willis at the heart of the back four. With Tom Flanagan having struggled so far this season, the Turk has to have a good chance of starting against Portsmouth this weekend.

There was one moment of alarm before the break, but while Courtney Baker-Richardson found Bishop as he squared the ball across the area, the Stanley striker lost his footing and failed to get a shot away. Sean McConville drilled a long-range free-kick over the crossbar ten minutes later, but for the most part, Sunderland’s defenders were able to keep their opponents at arm’s length before the interval.

That was not the case in the second half, with Accrington displaying a much greater degree of intent. Sunderland’s control of the game gradually ebbed away after the break, with their midfielders struggling to retain possession and their defenders finding themselves pushed back towards the edge of their own box.

Jordan Clark headed wide after Callum Johnson slung a deep cross into the box, and the Accrington striker played an integral role in his side’s equaliser on the hour mark.

Sunderland’s defenders failed to read a long ball over the top, enabling Clark to gallop into the right-hand side of the box. Callum McLaughlin’s frantic attempts to catch the forward ended with him bundling him to the ground, and referee Darren Drysdale had no hesitation to point to the penalty spot. Bishop stepped up, and hammered a confident finish down the middle of the goal.

With his side pegged back to 1-1 yet again, Ross threw on McGeady, a sign of his mounting desperation given that he would almost certainly have started the night wanting to protect his injury-plagued winger. It was to prove a wise move.

McGeady almost had an immediate impact, with his perfectly-weighted through ball releasing McNulty into the area with 14 minutes left. Sunderland’s goalscorer drilled an angled shot across goal, but while the ball struck the underside of the crossbar, it bounced and stayed out.

No matter. When McGeady picked up a loose ball just inside the Accrington half five minutes later, he decided to take care of things himself. Skipping past three defenders as he glided towards the box, the Irishman shuffled himself into a shooting position and dispatched a clinical driven finish into the bottom left-hand corner. It was a wonderful goal, showcasing the technical skills that set McGeady apart from every other player in League One.

Sunderland’s third arrived in stoppage time, with McNulty crossing from the right, and Wyke turning home a neat finish from close range.