U23 Report: Late defeat in season opener

Sunderland AFC U23 3-4 Fulham

A spirited Sunderland Under-23 performance ended in agonising late defeat in the Premier League 2 Division 2 season opener at the Stadium of Light.

Sonny Hilton cast the crucial spell for the visitors in the final minute of the 90, in a match in which both sides led.

Will Harris’ double – the second from the penalty spot – twice equalised after Luke Harris and Terry Ablade put Fulham ahead, with Tyrese Dyce then heading Elliott Dickman’s side ahead in front of a loyal home support.

Substitute Kieron Bowie levelled for the Cottagers, before Hilton netted the winner late on.

Dickman opted with Dyce and Benji Kimpioka as the wide support, with Stephen Wearne operating in behind the spearhead of the attack, Harris.

Ollie Younger partnered Patrick Almond in the centre of defence, with Kenton Richardson and Nathan Newall as the full-backs.

Sam Wilding captained the side with Harrison Sohna alongside him in a deep midfield role – a trialist began the season opener in goal.

As the encounter gathered pace with both sides getting a feel for the match and the season on the Wearside turf, the young Lads survived a minor scare when Jonathon Page fired over from inside the area.

Hilton was next to strike just off target with a free-kick 25 yards from goal, following Almond’s foul on Terry Ablade.

Despite an even scale of possession, Fulham’s edge on the creative front saw them rewarded just on the half hour. A pulled back pass found Luke Harris in space and despite an initial block from the Lads’ back line, the striker found a second bite of the cherry and made no mistake to put the visitors ahead.

The opener spurred the Black Cats into life however, and the home fans inside the stadium had merely five minutes to wait before the goalscorer’s namesake Will Harris knocked home an equaliser.

Wearne made space outside the area and tested Taye Ashby-Hammond in the Fulham goal for the first time – the stopper only able to parry out the shot with a diving save to his left. Harris was on hand to tap home the rebound and open the young Lads’ accounts for the campaign.

The second half saw the contest open up completely, with numerous chances apiece. And Fulham took no longer than five minutes into the half to claw back in front, Ablade’s low shot finding its way in at the near post.

But again, just moments later was another chance to bring it level. Dyce was tripped in the penalty box, allowing Harris the chance to double both his and the Lads’ tally – duly obliging with a coolly taken penalty, sending Ashby-Hammond the wrong way.

Wearne’s departure with what looked to be a shoulder issue was a sour side of the evening for Dickman and Sunderland, but his replacement Caden Kelly made an instant impact in delivering the assist for the Black Cats to nudge in front.

His corner from the left flank met the highest riser in Dyce, whose firm header gave Fulham no chance and made it 3-2.

Steve Wigley’s Fulham pushed, and their persistence eventually paid off when second-half sub Bowie curled in an exquisite strike 15 minutes from time to level once more.

And after Dyce’s late header hit the outside of the post from Vinnie Steels’ delivery, Hilton swung the pendulum in the Londoners’ direction one last time to see them head south with all three points from the first fixture.

The opportunity beckons to bounce back for the youngsters in Lancashire next Monday, facing Burnley in the first away trip of 2021-22.

SUNDERLAND AFC U23: Trialist; Richardson, Younger, Almond, Newall; Wilding ©, Sohna; Kimpioka (Steels 59’), Wearne (Kelly 62’), Dyce; Harris.

Subs not used: Bond, Jessup, Chapman.

FULHAM U23: Ashby-Hammond, Fossey, Larkeche, McAvoy ©, Odutayo, Page (Bowie 70’), Hilton, O’Neill, Pajaziti, Ablade, L. Harris.

Subs not used: Las, Araujo, Lanquedoc.

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