Kevin Ball

Under-21s draw with Stoke

by Ashley Houghton

Lynch scores early on but spoils shared at Eppleton CW.

Sunderland U21 1 Stoke City U21 1

Sunderland’s development squad moved up to second in the Barclays U21 Premier League after a 1-1 home draw with Stoke City at Eppleton CW.

Craig Lynch gave the young Black Cats an early lead after just 40 seconds before James Alabi replied for the hosts five minutes later in a physical encounter.

Kevin Ball’s side contained six changes from their last league match when they hammered Arsenal 5-1 in North London as Jordan Pickford and Andrew Cartwright made their first starts of the campaign whilst Scott Harrison, El-Hadji Ba, Alex Gorrin and Charis Mavrias also returned.

The majority of fans were still coming into Eppleton as Lynch opened the scoring on 40 seconds after he latched onto George Honeyman’s through ball and dinked the ball over on-rushing Stoke keeper Daniel Bachmann.

Lynch’s third goal in five appearances gave Ball’s side the perfect start and continued a run which has seen the young Black Cats score first in nine of their 12 league games this season.

Duncan Watmore tried to double the advantage minutes later but he was thwarted by a good block from Alex Grant after he drove at the Potters’ defence.

Stoke’s equaliser came just after Pickford had kept Eddy Lecygne’s long-range drive as James Alabi chipped into the Washington-born stopper’s bottom left-hand corner from close range for his fourth goal of the campaign.

Karim Rossi then headed Adam Thomas’ cross over for the hosts before Bachmann was down well to save Honeyman’s stinging low drive.

Alabi was then denied by another good save from Pickford, who was making his first appearance for the development squad this season after previously enjoying a loan spell at Burton Albion.

David Ferguson kept the scores level before the break with a fine last-ditch tackle to deny Alabi a clear run on goal.

Harrison hit a well-struck 30-yard free-kick with the last kick of the half, forcing Bachmann to scramble to his right and gather.

Watmore had the chance to regain the lead for Ball’s side just after the break as Honeyman threaded the former Altrincham man through but he fired across goal from a tight angle and saw his effort knocked behind for a corner.

Gorrin forced another save from Bachmann on the hour after Cartwright’s cross fell kindly for him on the edge of the area.

David Moberg Karlsson came on as a second-half substitute and nearly made an instant impact when he cut onto his left foot and forced a good low save from Bachmann.

Ba volleyed a late chance wide when he was at full stretch to latch onto Harrison’s cross but the hard-working Cats couldn’t quite force the late winner.

Sunderland: Pickford, Cartwright (Mitchell, 67), Ferguson, Ba, Harrison, Egan, Watmore, Gorrin (Oliver, 60), Lynch, Honeyman, Mavrias (Moberg Karlsson, 67).

Subs not used: Dixon, McNamee.