IT might not be to everybody’s taste, but you certainly can’t claim this season’s EFL Trophy is failing to provide entertainment.

Four weeks after they put eight goals past Aston Villa Under-21s in their opening group game, Sunderland were involved in an eight-goal thriller against Carlisle United as they effectively guaranteed their place in the knockout phase.

Chris Maguire’s double, allied to further goals from Denver Hume and Charlie Wyke, looked like ensuring a comfortable night for the Black Cats, who trailed to Lewis Alessandra’s penalty.

Two late strikes from Carlisle substitute Jon Mellish made for a grandstand finish, but Jack Diamond’s first Sunderland goal in stoppage time settled things. Given the way things panned out, it is just as well Phil Parkinson opted to name a strong side.

Carlisle might be mid-table in League Two, but the Cumbrian visitors were always going to provide stouter resistance than Aston Villa’s kids, and it took just five minutes for a Black Cats defence featuring Luke O’Nien at centre-half to be breached.

Danny Devine’s through ball sent Ethan Walker galloping into the box, and the Carlisle midfielder was upended by a sliding Remi Matthews. Lewis Alessandra, once of Hartlepool United, stepped up to score.

Carlisle’s slick passing was the most notable feature of the opening quarter-of-an-hour, and Maguire was forced to hack off his own line as Max Hunt headed goalwards from a corner. The hosts gradually eased their way back into the game, although their 26th-minute equaliser owed much to a huge slice of luck. Maguire fired a 22-yard free-kick into the Carlisle wall, and the ball took a huge deflection off Middlesbrough loanee Connor Malley before completely wrong-footing goalkeeper Magnus Norman.

That was fortuitous, but with Diamond attacking purposefully down the right and Max Power making a series of well-timed breaks into the box, the Black Cats gradually asserted their superiority.

They claimed the lead courtesy of the best move of the game eight minutes before the break, with some neat interplay between Power and Maguire releasing Hume behind the Carlisle defence. The wing-back steadied himself before slotting a neat finish underneath Norman.

Maguire’s drive and movement troubled the opposition defence all night, with the 31-year-old clearly relishing the opportunity to play alongside Wyke as an orthodox centre-forward rather than being asked to play in a more withdrawn role.

The pair combined superbly as Sunderland extended their lead ten minutes after the interval, with Wyke neatly flicking the ball into his team-mate’s path. There was still plenty to do as Maguire received possession, but he outmuscled George Tanner inside the area before slotting home.

The roles were reversed quarter-of-an-hour later, with Maguire’s long-range effort enabling Wyke to score. Norman should really have dealt with Maguire’s attempt to secure a hat-trick, but he spilled the ball back into the six-yard box, enabling Wyke to tap home.

The second half was a helter-skelter affair, and Carlisle’s refusal to be cowed was rewarded when they made it 4-2 with 18 minutes left. Sunderland’s defenders failed to deal with a routine ball into the box, and Mellish was able to stab home at the back post. Mellish made a real impact after coming off the bench, and he found the net again in the 82nd minute, rifling into the roof of the net after Alessandra pulled back to him.

Diamond steadied Sunderland’s nerves in stoppage time, lashing home after Danny Graham teed him up.