Wickham on target in derby draw.
Two goals from Connor Wickham earned Sunderland under-21s a point at the Sports Direct Arena.
The young front man struck a goal in either half to give the Black Cats a share of the derby spoils, as Kevin Ball’s side notched their second successive draw.
Wickham opened the scoring early in the game with a close-range shot in the seventh minute before Bradden Inman pulled the visitors back less than ten minutes later.
Adam Campbell took credit for a deflected goal to put United in front before the break, but Wickham was in the right place to make sure it ended all square as he slotted home another six-yard effort early in the second half.
Coach Kevin Ball named a strong side for the under-21’s trip to Tyneside.
Summer signing Louis Saha spearheaded the Black Cats’ attack alongside Wickham, with Ji Dong-won assuming a right-hand midfield role.
David Vaughan started the game as he continues his comeback from injury, while Matt Kilgallon was Sunderland’s third senior player in the squad as he joined Blair Adams, John Egan and Louis Laing in defence.
Both teams started brightly in the clash with the first chance of the game falling to the home side.
Campbell latched onto Jonathan Hooper’s cross from the left only for Kilgallon to intervene with a great clearance to keep the game goalless.
However, that wasn’t the case for long, as Vaughan unleashed some of his midfield magic to beat three players and pick out Billy Knott on the edge of the box.
The youngster threaded the ball through to Wickham who was in the right place to coolly slot the ball past goalkeeper Alnwick and put Sunderland in front.
Moments later Ji almost doubled Sunderland’s lead but his left-footed curling effort fizzed just wide of Alnwick’s goal.
Within minutes of the visitors scoring, Newcastle pulled level as Inman snatched the equaliser after stopper Jordan Pickford failed to clear the ball.
There was an immediate response from Ball’s side, as former Manchester United man Saha forced Alnwick into making an impressive double-save.
The next goal of the game would fall to United. Sammy Ameobi made a great run up the pitch to set up Campbell.
The United man pulled the trigger but the ball was helped over the line with a huge slice of luck as it deflected off Egan’s leg to bounce in off the post and past Pickford.
The young stopper was not fazed and pulled off two stunning saves five minutes before the break to keep Sunderland in the game.
He denied Hooper from close range before Campbell once again tested the keeper’s reflexes as he streaked down field to find himself one-on-one with Pickford before the England under-19 international pounced to punch away the striker’s effort.
Sunderland were left frustrated once more as Saha had penalty shout turned down after being brought down inside the box.
Before fellow striker Wickham had a number of opportunities to send Sunderland into the break on level terms, firing one shot just wide and then another moments before the whistle, which he skied over the top of Alnwick’s goal, following a great counter-attack from Saha, which Wickham failed to capitalise on.
The former Ipswich man would not make the same mistake thrice and five minutes after the restart he was there to tap home Ji’s low cross in almost a carbon copy of the strike he opened the scoring with in the first half.
There was a greater sense of urgency from Sunderland in the second half as they pressed forward a lot more.
Vaughan continued to play a key role in the visitors’ attack, as Saha looked for a third but could only find the side netting.
Wickham, who was chasing a hat-trick, then took one touch too many as he was denied a treble by Alnwick, moments before being replaced by Jordan Laidler on the hour mark.
The 1,776 gathered at the Sports Direct Arena were almost witness to a trademark Vaughan screamer, as the midfielder struck the ball from 20 yards out, for it to flash inches wide of Alnwick’s goal.
Sunderland continued to turn the screw and search for the winner.
The best chance fell to Adam Reed in the 85th minute as he chased Ji’s cross into the box after the Korean zipped down the flank to tee up the midfielder, who slid the ball inches wide of goal.
A left-wing corner from Adams gave Saha the opportunity to head home that elusive winner moments from time, but the front man was left frustrated as the ball blazed over the top.
Substitute Adam Mitchell was brought down seemingly inside the box in the fourth and final minute of injury time, however, Sunderland were denied a spot kick once again and were only awarded a free kick, much to the displeasure of the visitors’ bench.
The game ended with honours even on Tyneside as Kevin Ball’s side secured their second draw and second point of the season.
NUFC: Alnwick, Abeid, Ferguson, Newton, Richardson (Moyo, 69) Good, Ameobi S, Gosling, Campbell, Inman, Hooper.
Subs Not Used:, Mitchell, Nicholson, Riley, Maddison
Goals: Inman 16, Campbell 35
SAFC: Pickford, Laing, Adams, Egan, Kilgallon, Reed, Dong-won, Vaughan, Knott, (Mitchell, 83) Saha, Wickham (Laidler, 60).
Subs Not Used: Dixon, Ferguson, Marrs
Goals: Wickham 9, 50
Booked: Reed 62