Last-gasp goal settles league opener.
Sunderland U21 0 Liverpool U21 1
Sunderland’s U21s began their 2014-15 Barclays U21 Premier League campaign with a late 1-0 defeat to Liverpool.
The young Black Cats created a number of chances in what was an even game, but like their Merseyside opponents they were unable to apply the finishing touch to seal a decisive goal.
That was until the 91st minute as Liverpool broke with Ryan McLaughlin, who drove down the left before capitalising on a double deflection to rifle the ball into the net.
Andrew Cartwright, Mikael Mandron and Duncan Watmore were but three of the players named in the Black Cats’ starting XI, with the trio all looking to push on following impressive pre-season campaigns at first-team and development level.
Liverpool started well with Shay Ojo playing a cute ball down the wing to the overlapping Kevin Stewart, but he was forced off the ball by Watmore who then challenged Chris Peterson to clear the danger.
With seven minutes played the Black Cats almost became the architects of their own downfall, as Cameron Brannagan closed down Scott Harrison and the ball fell to Peterson, who was swiftly closed down in turn by Tom McNamee.
As time wore on the Wearsiders began to find their rhythm, and they almost forced an opener with 11 minutes on the clock as Watmore burst into the final third before being crowded out by three Liverpool defenders.
Moments later they worked another good opening through Adilson Cabral, who played a wonderful reverse pass to David Ferguson whose lung-busting run began a fraction too early with the linesman signalling for offside.
Liverpool were next to threaten as the sides continued to trade blows, but again defence trumped attack as Ferguson managed to block Ojo’s cross with Brannagan lurking in the six-yard box.
The Black Cats were then awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position, but Martin Smith’s powerful attempt from 25 yards dipped narrowly over the crossbar.
With 37 minutes played Sunderland crafted the best opportunity of the half, tantalisingly moving the ball through final third before Cartwright played a teasing ball towards the back post.
Mandron was unable to connect but Watmore arrived and look destined to score, however he slotted the ball back across goal and wide of the post.
Moments later the Reds responded, but after McLaughlin found Brannagan in the box the forward curled his effort over the top, as Black Cats keeper Max Stryjek continued to enjoy a comfortable evening between the sticks.
Liverpool created the first opportunities of the second half but again they failed to test the Black Cats’ backline, as Brannagan smashed a free kick into Mandron before the Reds wasted the resulting corner.
Both goalkeepers were tested soon after as Dan Ward denied Mandron with a low save, before Peterson drove into the box one-on-one with Stryjek who pulled off a stunning one-footed stop to ensure parity remained.
With 19 minutes remaining it was pinball in the box as a swift Black Cats break unlocked the Reds defence, but despite the ball falling to a number of Sunderland players they were unable to apply the finishing touch as Liverpool scrambled the ball clear.
The Reds were on the ropes and with time ticking Watmore stole through, lifting a deft chip over the goalkeeper but agonisingly wide of the post before Liam Agnew had a shot blocked on the edge of the box.
With 81 minutes played McLaughlin almost stunned the Black Cats, driving in from the left before unleashing a powerful shot towards goal that was palmed away by Stryjek.
Both sides created chances at the death, but substitute Lynden Gooch dragged his shot wide before Peterson did same as the game looked to be heading for a goalless draw.
However, McLaughlin had other ideas, and with seconds remaining he found the corner as a double deflection played a huge role in ensuring the Reds left Eppleton with three points in the bag.
Liverpool U21s: Ward, Randall (Wilson, 62), Stewart, Jones, Williams, Rossiter, McLaughlin, Lussey, Peterson, Brannagan (Yesil, 71), Ojo (Maguire, 80).
Subs not used: Vigouroux, Trickett-Smith.