LEE JOHNSON feels Charlie Wyke will get a confidence boost after netting a hat-trick at AFC Wimbledon.

The Sunderland striker scored twice late on at Plough Lane to calm Sunderland nerves, adding to his first-half strike.

It was a good return to south London for the 28-year old, who played for Wimbledon on loan from Middlesbrough in 2014. The three-goal haul means the striker now has 13 goals to his name this season.

Since taking over from Phil Parkinson in December, Johnson admitted he felt Wyke needed to adapt at Sunderland. Criticism has been aimed at the striker in recent weeks, but the manager believes the hat-trick can lift a mental block.

He said “Before I arrived, I was aware of what style of player he is, Charlie has got to believe in himself. With a club like this, sometimes external influence can penetrate the mind. We’ve got to internalise his confidence levels, and make sure he understands that football doesn’t define him as a human.

“Sometimes, the pressure of a big club like this can get to people, so it’s something that we’re working on. That will be fantastic for him today, for belief in himself, and I believe he’s better than he thinks he does.

“I’m delighted for him. Any striker to have that will give him the confidence. He had to work his socks off today – he’s been battered pillar to post by their two central halves but he’s dealt with it. He’s earned his opportunities."

It was a happy return to the London borough of Merton for Sunderland, their first trip since September 1990. The previous game on Plough Lane finished in a 2-2 draw, after letting a two-goal lead slip. There was no repeat of that scoreline at the new home of Wimbledon, which is 400 yards away from their previous venue. Even so, the late double strike by Wyke turned an edgy game into a comfortable one.

Lynden Gooch was absent after testing positive for coronavirus, while there was no start for new signing Carl Winchester, who took his place on the bench.

Wyke gave the visitors an early lead after seven minutes. Elliot Embleton found Aiden O’Brien, who pulled the ball across the face of goal, and the striker was on hand to bundle it goalwards.

Sunderland looked dangerous whenever they attacked, and Wyke could have made it more comfortable five minutes before the break. Another low cross from the right by Max Power found Wyke in a crowded area, but he was unable to keep his shot down, and fired over the bar.

A single-goal lead was never likely to be enough, and the home side gave out a warning soon after the restart. Ryan Longman controlled the ball and dragged his effort wide of Lee Burge's upright – although there was a suspicion of handball in the build-up.

Both sides had made three subs by the time Wyke pounced for his second three minutes from time. A corner from Grant Leadbitter saw the forward swing his right foot to volley past Sam Walker, effectively sealing the win.

It was hard not to sense the all-round relief in the Sunderland camp, after holding a one-goal lead in such a scrappy game.

Even so, it could have got uncomfortable again for the visitors, when Joe Pigott hit the post soon afterwards.

Sunderland were more relaxed with their two-goal cushion, and nearly made it a third when Jack Diamond hit the woodwork.

The final word fell – almost inevitably – to Wyke. He took control of a Josh Scowen through-ball to chip home.

It rounded off a successful afternoon that was perhaps less comfortable than the scoreline suggested.