Sunderland’s U21s continued the club’s winning ways against local rivals Newcastle as two second-half goals completed a routine 2-0 victory.
Despite a small yet vociferous crowd for both sides, the first half turned out to be an underwhelming non-event. With both teams struggling to get the ball down and retain possession, owing to pressure high up the pitch from either side, Newcastle’s best outlet came from centre midfielder Michael Richardson.
Former Accrington loanee Richardson provided the away side’s two best opportunities, heading straight at goalkeeper Jordan Pickford shortly after a 20-yard strike was well saved by the Sunderland stopper.
As the half wore on, the home side began to enjoy superior possession in Newcastle’s final third, but struggled to test the Magpies’ keeper. Jordan Laidler had a penalty appeal
waved away shortly before the break, latching onto a pass in behind Remie Streete at the heart of away side’s defence before the defender collided with onrushing keeper Jak Alnwick. Contact appeared minimal at best, with any appeal falling upon deaf ears.
Sunderland came out to attack with purpose and intent after the break and began to take charge by the hour mark.
Lively winger Adam Mitchell found Massadio Haidara out of position and crossed towards Louis Laing at the back post, his ball just managing to evade the impressive midfielder. Laing and fellow midfielder Connor Oliver began to trouble their opponents with powerful runs through the centre, with Oliver becoming central to their opening goal.
Despite having his back to goal and seemingly no threat, Streete clattered through the back of him and referee Mr Miller had no hesitation in awarding a spot kick. Centre forward Laidler stepped up and duly sent Alnwick the wrong way.
Newcastle barely mustered a shot on target in searching for an equaliser. Alex Gilliead headed over soon after they conceded but did not have another attempt of note until the 87th minute, defender Streete again in the action as he sent a tame header well wide.
The home side then began to counter and always looked likely to add to their lead. Laidler was presented with a great chance to add to his tally but sent his effort wide, left-winger Ross Holland shot just over after cutting onto his right foot and substitute Martin Smith was denied by an intelligent stop from Alnwick.
The second goal came in the dying seconds. Smith latched onto a ball down the left and slotted his chance inside beyond Alnwick’s despairing dive, bagging a well-deserved three points for the home side.
Speaking after the match, Sunderland U21 manager Kevin Ball believed they deserved the win after a cagey first half: “Second half we took the scrap to them, the fight to them, we created a lot of chances and we looked really strong."
Despite two players leaving the field due to cramp, Ball was impressed with the work rate of his side and singled out midfielder Laing for praise: “One has a medical issue, the second one is coming back from a long-term injury, I think it [having cramp] proved the fact that he worked very hard up until the time he came off, which is what we want from them.
“Look at Louis Laing, he’d been out a long time, that was his third or fourth game back and he looked as strong as an ox at the end.”
Sunderland cement their second place in the Barclays U21 Premier League table as 3rd-place Liverpool re-arranged the fixture with Wolves. On the contrary, Newcastle’s poor season continues and they remain firmly in the lower reaches of the table.
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