A double from Lee Connelly ensured Sunderland under-18s progressed in the FA Youth Cup at the expense of Shrewsbury Town on Wednesday.
In what was a bitterly cold cup tie at Eppleton Colliery Welfare, Connelly gave the home crowd something to cheer as he broke the deadlock on 11 minutes.
Sunderland were in cruise control from there until George Hassall popped up against the run of play to head Shrewsbury level on the half hour mark.
An accomplished home side returned after the break, Connelly netted his second moments before the hour before the Scotsman turned provider with Elliot Embleton providing the deadly touch.
Michael Woud then prevented a grandstand finish in the dying embers as he saved Chris Gallagher’s penalty, and the Lads help on to book a fifth round tie against Wear-Tyne rivals Newcastle United.
Despite a sluggish start to the 2016-17 season, Elliott Dickman’s side ended the calendar year on a three game unbeaten run.
With a pleasing 4-1 victory over Burton Albion the stellar result, Dickman’s side went into their fourth round FA Youth Cup match with high hopes of starting the year as they mean to go on.
And with just 11 minutes on the clock, Connelly ensured that.
Scoring his eighth goal in only his 12th appearance for the young Black Cats, the young Scottish striker made no mistake as he went through on goal and coolly finished as he has done all season.
However, the visitors weren’t without their chances and it could’ve been a very different story had Michael Woud not been able to keep out Ryan Barnett’s drilled effort minutes before Connelly’s opener.
With a bitterly cold breeze swirling around the Eppleton Colliery Welfare ground, conditions were incredibly ripe but Dickman’s troops produced an accomplished display in the opening half hour – dominating possession with Josh Maja the orchestrator from deep.
But right on the 30 minute mark, against the run of play, the Lads’ bright start was undone as Hassall expertly powered his header into the top corner following a fine cross from the right flank.
Sunderland quickly re-established possession and almost their advantage when Alex Storey’s header was kept out by the feet of Jack Atkinson who spread himself well to deny the defender.
Chris Allan coasted past one and then unleashed a rasping drive which whistled over the bar as the Lads continued to pepper Town’s goal before Maja and Connelly combined only for Atkinson to snuff out the danger as he confidently came off his line.
Further impressive ball skills from Maja and Asoro almost saw Shrewsbury’s defender breached for a second time, but the visitors held firm to ensure they went into the break level.
The Cats returned with their claws showing and set about finding their killer instinct with Asoro proving too hot to handle as he scampered over the halfway line, only to be cynically felled by Jacob Rammell.
Asoro never recovered and while he was later replaced by Jack Diamond, Connelly continued to grab all the headlines as he instinctively regained the Lads’ lead when the referee played advantage after Maja went tumbling inside the area on 58 minutes.
To the visitor’s credit they responded well but rarely carved the Black Cats in two as Dickman’s side held firm to thwart them.
And then, with 15 minutes left on the clock, Connelly unselfishly squared the ball to Embleton, as the pair breached the visitor’s backline, and he rifled home a precious third goal to give Sunderland a two-goal cushion.
The lads weren’t done there though, a quick faint from Maja saw him work some space on the edge of the box before his arrowed strike swayed inches wide in the wind.
Michael Woud then prevented a grandstand finish in the dying embers as he saved Chris Gallagher’s penalty.
Next up, Newcastle United.
Sunderland: Woud, Gamble, Storey, Taylor, Krusnell, Allan, Embleton, Asoro (Diamond, 59), Hackett (McAughtrie 88), Connelly, Maja (Kimpioka, 83)
Subs not used: Young, Patterson
Shrewsbury Town: Atkinson, Sears, Jones, Hughes, Bonner, Roberts, Barnett, Rammell (Ofori, 75), Hassall (Higgs, 83), Gallagher, Gilpin
Subs not used: Gregory, Lovett, Kerins