Cardiff City U23 1-1 Sunderland U23
Jamie Bird struck a stoppage time leveller as Cardiff City earned a share of the spoils against Sunderland under-23s in the Premier League Cup in south Wales on Friday.
Cardiff dominated large spells of the game and prevented the young Black Cats from getting their foot on the ball as Rhys Abruzzese and Jordan Blaise fired over in the opening stages.
Wave after wave of attacks ensued on Sunderland’s goal as the Bluebirds looked to make the most of their possession - Mark Harris was denied by the foot of the post with Max Stryjek beaten.
Sunderland stuck at it though and were much improved in the second period despite heavy rain making conditions particularly challenging.
Joel Asoro’s deft touch on 76 minutes looked to have given the lads a narrow victory but Bird slammed home a last-gasp volley to make sure the points were split.
Having suffered two defeats in their last two league fixtures, the Premier League Cup provided Andy Welsh’s side with the perfect opportunity to get their season back on track.
Welsh shuffled his pack slightly and made two changes to the team that started at Liverpool last Sunday, Daniel Wright came in for the suspended Michael Ledger and Elliot Embleton started in replace of George Honeyman.
That saw Wright partner Ethan Robson in the centre of the park while Tom Beadling dropped back to add further steel to the Black Cats backline.
Cardiff City raced out the traps in the opening exchanges and really looked to force the issue as their high press approach penned Sunderland deep into their own half.
While space was at a premium, Abruzzese worked the ball well and sent a well-struck half-volley whistling over the bar before Jordan Blaise turned inside the area only to again lash over.
Sunderland tried to weather the storm but with 24 minutes on the clock the hosts looked to turn the screw as Harris struck the base of the post with a skilful flick from Abruzzese’s low cross from the left-hand side.
The Black Cats continued to plug away but the Bluebirds dominated the opening half as Joel Asoro and Josh Maja were forced to feed on scraps.
Carl Lawson entered the fray at the break in replace of Embleton, and the lads were much improved in the second 45.
Good play from Maja saw him patiently wait an overlapping run from Rees Greenwood down the left side before the winger won a corner which resulted in George Brady shaving the top of the bar with a neat volley.
While bright sun welcomed Sunderland to south Wales at the start of the game, the second period saw rain lash down onto the Cardiff City Stadium pitch as Robson began to orchestrate the play in the middle the park.
But Cardiff came back again with efforts raining down on Stryjek’s goal, Tommy O’Sullivan rifled an attempt into the stoppers mid-drift while Macauley Southam’s tirless efforts down the right flank were crying out to be tapped home.
With the storm somewhat weathered Sunderland mustered the courage to push forward in search of a goal, and with 76 minutes on the clock Asoro provided just that.
The Swede latched onto Greenwood’s thunderous strike and got the slightest of touches on the ball to help it on its way past Luke O’Reilly. From there the young Black Cats began to ooze confidence, Asoro’s quick feet saw him wriggle past a host of bodies and almost work another opening before his right-footed attempt minutes later slammed into the side netting.
Cardiff rallied late on as Lloyd Humphries forced Stryjek into action and with time all but up, second-half substitute Bird rammed home a stoppage time equaliser following a neat cross from the right to ensure their efforts weren’t in vain.
Cardiff City under-23s starting XI: O’Reilly, Baker, Abruzzese, Patten (Humphries 83), Blaise, James, Southam (Rees, 83), Wharton (Bird, 73), Harris, O’Sullivan, Weymans
Unused subs: Menayese, Byrne
Sunderland under-23s starting XI: Stryjek, T Robson, Beadling, Brady, J Robson, Greenwood, E Robson, Wright, Embleton (Lawson, 45), Maja (Molyneux, 68), Asoro
Unused subs: Pain, Casey, Pybus