Motspur Park

Young Black Cats to face Fulham

by Stuart Vose

U18s hoping to progress to play-off final.

Sunderland’s U18s head to London on Wednesday to face Fulham with a place in the final of the Barclays U18 Premier League at stake.

The two sides meet in the play-off semi-finals on Wednesday evening (KO 7pm) at the Cottagers’ Motspur Park training ground (pictured).

The young Black Cats set up the clash following a thrilling penalty shoot-out win over Aston Villa on Wearside last weekend.

Sunderland recovered from an early deficit to equalise through Liam Agnew’s 35-yard drive.

Both sides then saw a man sent off before 30 minutes of extra-time finished scoreless, ushering in a dramatic shoot-out.

And it was the hosts who held their nerve, prevailing 4-2 with Martin Smith scoring the winning spot-kick.

The victory continued a successful season for the young Black Cats, who held off stern opposition during the league campaign to finish top of Group 1 – the middle group of the three national divisions.

With the U18 season now split into two parts, Sunderland qualified for Group 1 after winning five and losing seven of their first 12 pre-Christmas games.

The second group stage saw the Wearsiders come into their own, winning their division and bagging 23 points from 12 games along the way.

That top spot – secured with a 2-0 win over Liverpool in the final league game of the season – teed up a meeting with Villa, who won Group 2.

Now Academy manager Ged McNamee and his staff will be hoping the youngsters can produce a similarly steely display in the capital against a Fulham side who have enjoyed a superb season.

The Cottagers qualified for the Elite Group with 25 points from 12 games before the turn of the year and lost only three of 14 outings over the remainder of the campaign.

But even with 31 points, the London club had to rely on goal difference to see off second-placed Reading as the teams finished with identical records.

Fulham’s differential – four better than the Royals – saw them top the group, while Reading and third-placed Everton also qualified, with all three sides heading straight to the semi-finals.

The winners of Wednesday night’s game will advance to play either the Royals or the Toffees in the league final this weekend.