Jan Kirchhoff returned from injury but couldn’t prevent Sunderland under-23s from slipping to a frustrating defeat at home to Manchester United on Monday.
The German completed a planned 60-minute run out as he clocked up his first minutes since recovering from a lengthy spell in the treatment room.
But while Kirchhoff handed David Moyes a fitness boost – it proved to be an evening to forget for the development team.
Two goals in six first-half minutes saw Man United well on their way to victory, Demetri Mitchell dispatched a penalty on 27 minutes before Scott McTominay was a tad fortunate as his deflected strike from range left Max Stryjek wrong footed.
Devonte Redmond secured the win in the 71st minute, but there was late drama as Regan Poole was shown a red card for two bookable offences with 90 minutes on the clock.
From the resultant free-kick George Honeyman stabbed the ball home to reduce the arrears in the dying embers.
Work to do, Lads!
Jan Kirchhoff featured for the first time in 2017 after recovering from a knee injury sustained in a Premier League fixture against Chelsea at the Stadium of Light in December.
The German has endured a wretched campaign so far having sustained two long-term spells on the treatment table this season.
Buoyed by the inclusion of Kirchhoff, Elliott Dickman also had Donald Love, Lynden Gooch and Honeyman at his exposal with assistant manager Paul Bracewell watching on.
But while the Black Cats named a strong starting XI, it was the visitors who dealt with the slippery surface better at Eppleton Colliery Welfare.
Matthew Willock sent a low drive wide of Stryjek’s post before Josh Harrop later smashed an attempt into George Brady as Nicky Butt’s men looked to assert their authority.
With his next effort, though, Harrop used the defender to his advantage and bent an acute strike around Love and what looked to be into the far corner as well had it not been for a splendid outstretched stop from Stryjek.
A rare opening for Sunderland presented itself with 24 minutes played, however, Gooch was denied by Kieron O’Hara’s feet as he bore down on goal.
And O’Hara’s stop proved pivotal as United were awarded a penalty three minutes later. . .
McTominay went down inside the area under Love’s challenge, and Demetri Mitchell did the rest by sending the Black Cats’ stopper the wrong way from 12 yards.
It didn’t end there, though.
Sunderland’s evening turned from bad to worse just after the half-hour mark when McTominay’s rasping drive from range deflected past Stryjek to double United’s lead.
To the Lads’ credit, though, they rolled up their sleeves and set getting themselves back into contention.
Honeyman and Gooch combine before the American’s cross from the right found Josh Maja at the back stick. The forward tried his luck with a first-time volley but was denied by O’Hara - Gooch later smacked the outside of the post in the closing stages of the first period.
Joel Asoro replaced Maja at the break, and that seemed to change the Black Cats’ attacking impetuous. Gooch went down the middle while the Swede looked to open his legs as he occupied the right flank.
But it was in the middle of the park where Sunderland looked to do some damage.
Ethan Robson showed the kind of grit and resilience that would be needed if the Lads were to reduce the deficit, covering every blade of grass and putting in a number of strong tackles.
While Sunderland had an array of attacking options on the field, it was the unlikely goal source of Kirchhoff who carved out the hosts’ best chance.
A waltzing run from the German saw him show great feet before his effort rolled a fraction wide of O’Hara’s goal in the 58th minute.
The German was replaced by Elliot Embleton just after hour mark as he completed a planned 60-minute run out, but United secured the win through Redmond.
The forward capitalised on a loose ball following a goal mouth scramble and rifled the ball into the net at the second time of asking to round off an emphatic evening for United.
Poole was shown a red card for two bookable offences with 90 minutes on the clock and from the resultant free-kick Honeyman stabbed the ball home to reduce the arrears in the dying embers.
Work to do, Lads!
Sunderland: Stryjek, Love, Hume, Kirchhoff (Embleton, 63), Brady, Brotherton, Honeyman, E Robson, Maja (Asoro, 45), Gooch, Greenwood (Molyneux, 82).
Unused subs: J Robson, Talbot
Manchester United: O’Hara, Olosunde (Warren, 82), Mitchell, Tuanzebe, Borthwick-Jackson, Poole, Harrop, Willock, Redmond (Bouhi, 87), McTominway, Gribbin (Kehinde, 85)
Unused subs: Scott, Johnstone