Single strike settles league clash on Wearside.
Sunderland U21 1 Fulham U21 0
Sunderland moved up to fourth in the Barclays U21 Premier League with a battling win over high-flying Fulham at the Academy of Light.
A fine 17th-minute strike from Jordan Laidler inflicted just a fourth defeat of the season on the Cottagers, who are now just four points ahead of the Black Cats having played two games more.
A strong Sunderland side featured the likes of Carlos Cuellar, who comfortably came through the 90 minutes and produced an assured performance.
Fellow overage players Valentin Roberge and Ondrej Celustka both featured alongside the Spaniard at the back, with El Hadji Ba and Charis Mavrias operating in midfield.
The hosts could have grabbed further goals as they bounced back from a defeat at Norwich to notch their ninth win in 17 league games.
Lasse Vigen Christensen should have done better for the visitors early on when he found space on the edge of the box following a defensive mix-up, but the Fulham man crashed his shot wide of the post with Sunderland keeper Joel Dixon at full stretch.
The Cottagers’ profligacy was punished when Mikael Mandron’s strength allowed him to shield the ball in the box and lay a perfect pass off into the path of Laidler, who cracked a shot home from eight yards.
Laidler then came close to a second goal with a rocket of a shot from a short free-kick, but the effort was clawed out of the top corner by Fulham keeper Jesse Joronen.
George Honeyman rounded off a strong first half with a driving run from deep before supplying Mavrias, whose deep cross was grabbed by Joronen before any of the advancing Sunderland forward line could pounce.
Laidler threatened again from the edge of the box in the early stages of the second half, while Dixon denied Fulham an equaliser when he tipped Joshua Pritchard’s cross onto the crossbar.
Both sides were seeking the killer next goal but neither could conjure up a breakthrough, with Louis Laing curling just past the post from the edge of the box.
Momentum swung back and forth in the frenetic closing stages, with useful chances at both ends.
Dixon made another alert save with five minutes to go, getting down well to claim after Dino Islamovic got a touch on Lyle Della Verde’s low cross.
Meanwhile only a fine block from Celustka prevented Ange Freddy Plumain getting a shot away in a useful position after he was played in down the left.
Fulham were hit on the break in an extended period of stoppage time as a super through ball released the impressive George Honeyman, but the winger saw Joronen nick the ball off his toes as he looked to slalom past the goalkeeper.
But it didn’t matter in the end as Sunderland secured a key home victory – and a clean sheet to boot.
Sunderland: Dixon, Celustka, T Robson, Cuellar, Roberge (Harrison, 63), Ba (Oliver,85), Laing, Mavrias, Honeyman, Laidler, Mandron (Gooch, 90).
Subs not used: Stryjek, Smith.