Three goals in 17 minutes turned Wednesday night’s game on its head after Tom Eaves had given Gillingham an early lead.
Gillingham weren’t short of goalscoring chances in an entertaining game at Priestfield and it would have been a different story had they taken a few of them.
Eaves had an effort off the line after the break and also hit the woodwork, those chances coming either side of Sunderland grabbing a fourth.
It was an unchanged starting line-up for the Gills, the only change from the defeat at Walsall coming on the bench, with Elliott List involved for the first time after recovering from injury.
The Gills were facing a team tipped as clear favourites to win League 1 but Steve Lovell’s men got an early breakthrough as Eaves headed home Luke O’Neill’s cross with just three minutes on the clock.
Unfortunately that lead last just a matter of seconds, as Sunderland made an instant response, Chris Maguire turning the ball home at the far post after Glenn Loovens had nodded the ball down into his path.
The visitors went close through Max Power, firing over after running into space, but they did go infront on 18 minutes. Striker Josh Maja played the ball out to the edge of the box for George Honeyman
The visitors went close through Max Power, firing over after running into space, but they did go infront on 18 minutes. Striker Josh Maja played the ball out to the edge of the box for George Honeyman and he found the top corner.
Gills keeper Tomas Holy was beaten again within two minutes. Bradley Garmston lost possession on the left flank, just inside his own half, and Sunderland made the home side pay. Power swept the ball home from the edge of the box after the ball was played into his path.
It was a stunning turnaround for the visitors but in the latter stages of the half the Gills created several goalscoring opportunities. Unfortunately they didn’t convert. Eaves bent a shot wide of the post but Josh Parker had the best chance to pull one back, heading wide after being picked out by O’Neill’s super cross.
It meant the Gills still had a two-goal deficit to overcome in the second half.
Gillingham had a penalty appeal turned down early in the second half, when Regan Charles-Cook went down inside the area and Eaves also went close, looping a shot over the keeper but having the effort cleared off the line.
It was one-way traffic at the start of the half and Billy Bingham’s ball into the box created another chance, keeper Joe McLaughlin just about making a save as Parker almost prodded the ball home.
Gillingham’s attacking play deserved a goal but they found themselves 4-1 down on 59 minutes, a cross from the left taking a deflection and when Gabriel Zakuani was unable to clear properly, Josh Maja pounced.
Lovell’s men continued to attack, looking lively throughout, but they were always up against it following the first half goal blitz.
Hanlan almost bundled the ball home on 72 minutes, getting onto the end of a cross from Elliott List. Eaves’ follow-up his the woodwork.
It was a game that could have finished 4-4 but Sunderland’s clinical finishing, after a crazy start, was the difference.
Gillingham: Holy, O’Neill (List 70mins), Ehmer, Garmston, Zakuani, Bingham (Reilly 70mins), Byrne, Charles-Cook, Parker, Hanlan (Stevenson 84mins), Eaves. Subs not used: Hadler, Fuller, Lacey, Nasseri.
Sunderland: McLaughlin, James, Love (Hume 78mins), Loovens, Baldwin, Cattermole, Gooch, Power (O’Nien 83mins), Honeyman, Maguire (McGeouch 69mins), Maja. Subs not used: Ruiter, Ozturk, Embleton, Mumba.
Attendance: 8,438 (2,087 away)