Sunderland under-23s secured their place in the knockout stages of the Premier League International Cup following a dramatic second-half fight back at Derby County.
The Black Cats trailed by two goals at the break after Calum MacDonald netted a superb free-kick and Mason Bennett saw his cross turned home by the unfortunate Josh Robson.
But then, a quite simply brilliant comeback from the visitors saw them turn the game on its head.
Andrew Nelson led the charge following the midway interval as his goal on 66 minutes halved the deficit.
Rees Greenwood then saw his effort kept out by the feet of Kelle Roos before Cameron Cresswell turned the ball into his own net right at the death to secure Sunderland’s place in the next round.
Andy Welsh made four changes to his starting XI as George Brady returned from suspension while Rees Greenwood featured for the first time since the end of November.
Josh Maja, Joel Asoro and Elliot Embleton missed out due to their involvement in Wednesday night’s FA Youth Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town.
Carl Lawson and Daniel Wright also started while Tommy Beadling was selected among the substitutes having recovered from a knock.
Derby began the brighter of the two sides and quickly worked Max Stryjek between the sticks as the Rams looked to make the most of a new look under-23s team.
Leading the charge up top on his own, Andrew Nelson was his industrious self in what was largely a scrappy opening half hour at the iPro Stadium.
The hosts dominated the general ebb and flow of the game, but Welsh’s team were regimented in their defensive duties and did well to limit the Rams to very few chances, if any clear sights of goal at all.
With half-time fast approaching and the game in dire need of some goal mouth action, Bennett sent a viscous strike thundering against the woodwork as Derby County slowly turned the screw.
Moments later though their efforts paid dividends as MacDonald dispatched a superb free-kick from 20 yards, leaving Stryjek rooted to his spot.
Three minutes later, on the stroke of half-time, Bennett helped double the Rams’ lead as his cross was unfortunately turned home by Robson who slid in as he attempted to clear the ball.
Sunderland returned for the second period refreshed and rejuvenated, Greenwood began to tinker away and pick at Rams’ backline as he slowly started to rekindle his form of last season.
With a flurry of chances created in just a matter of minutes, the Black Cats could smell blood as they continued to peg Derby back.
And then, with 65 minutes on the clock a lifeline fell Sunderland’s way.
Nelson’s dogged determination paid off in the box as he bulldozed his way through a crowd of bodies and beat Kelle Roos to halve the deficit.
The Cats had their tails up and just four minutes later it should’ve been all square as Ethan Robson and Greenwood broke clear on the halfway line.
The duo linked up well but just as Greenwood went to round Roos who came off his line, the stopper managed to get a foot on the ball and prevent the winger from getting past him.
While the match lacked quality, Sunderland continued to plug away and got their reward right at the end – Cresswell the unfortunate individual who turned the ball into his own net following a cross from the right.
Sunderland, are safely through.
Derby County: Roos, Cover, MacDonald, Elsnik, Rawson (Bateman, 66), Lelan, Santos, Gordon, Jakobsen (Davidson-Miller, 81_, Babos, Bennett (Cresswell, 66)
Subs not used: Ravas, Lawson, Bird
Sunderland: Stryjek, J Robson, T Robson, Wright (Pybus, 82), Ledger, Brady, Molyneux (Blinco, 76), E Robson, Nelson (Hume, 70), Lawson, Greenwood
Subs not used: Talbot, Yves-Poame, Beadling