Sunderland’s defensive frailties threatened to herald a League Cup shock before the Premier League side ran out 6-3 winners over Exeter City.
Jermain Defoe netted a hat-trick and Jack Rodwell bagged a brace for the hosts at the Stadium of Light – both players scoring inside the first 16 minutes before Manny Oyeleke and David Wheeler hauled the League Two outfit level.
A brilliant second from Defoe was answered by Tom McCready as a remarkable half ended with the score 3-3 .
Rodwell was on hand to head the crucial seventh goal of the contest, before Duncan Watmore marked his England Under-21 call-up by getting on the scoresheet and Defoe claimed the matchball.
It meant a first win of the season for Sunderland, although manager Dick Advocaat – who named a strong side for the tie – has now seen his team concede 11 goals in four matches.
Rodwell drew first blood in the 12th minute, converting after Danny Graham’s shot from Patrick van Aanholt’s cutback was blocked.
The hosts doubled their advantage soon afterwards as Defoe lifted the ball over Exeter goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik before crashing a finish beyond defenders rushing back to the goalline.
Thoughts of a potential rout were soon forgotten as Sunderland failed to deal with Danny Butterfield’s lofted ball forward and Oyeleke got the better of Sebastian Coates to net from six yards.
Exeter were level in the 31st minute when Wheeler was given space to head home Lee Holmes’ left-wing cross at the far post but Defoe restored Sunderland’s lead – producing a sublime first touch and engineering space to dispatch a shot beyond Olejnik.
That advantage also proved flimsy, with Holmes once more afforded ample room in the role of provider – McCready the man to send the 495 Exeter fans who braved a six-hour journey into raptures on this occasion.
Holmes missed a headed chance to put Exeter in front after the break and Rodwell made the visitors pay by converting Sebastian Larsson’s 63rd-minute corner.
There was a moment to forget 12 minutes from time for Olejnik as Watmore beat him to the ball and made the most of a gaping goal.
Rodwell sent a curling effort wide but it would be Defoe who completed his treble, sweeping home another fine Larsson delivery in the 87th minute as Exeter’s brave challenge faded.
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