Sunderland under-23s refused to lie down as they came from behind twice to earn a spirited point against Derby County at the Stadium of Light.
Following a goalless first period, the young Black Cats were flying and should’ve been ahead when Ethan Robson left the crossbar rattling with a header before Joel Asoro unleashed a thunderous strike into the side netting.
But for all their possession, Alex Babos made Sunderland rue their missed chances as he tapped home in the 57th minute after the lads failed to clear a corner.
The Black Cats struck back though and deservedly so as Daniel Wright latched onto Lynden Gooch’s ball across the face of goal and finished from close range.
However, the hosts were level for little over a minute as Kellan Gordon made the most of lapse defending and clinically finished to restore the Rams’ lead.
Sunderland continued to plug away and earned a share of the spoils as Josh Maja was bundled to the floor inside the box, and Tom Beadling dispatched the penalty with real purpose.
Andy Welsh’s side approached the game searching for their first Premier League 2 win in three matches having suffered disappointing defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool.
With high hopes of building on a fine showing at Hartlepool United in the Checkatrade Trophy before the international break, Welsh named a strong starting XI which included three first-team faces.
Gooch began the night behind lone forward Joel Asoro, while Donald Love partnered Ethan Robson in the centre of the park as the pair aimed to provide a defensive shield in front of the backline. Meanwhile, Mika was named between the sticks as he gained some more valuable minutes.
Sunderland began the game brightly and Gooch’s tireless efforts almost paid dividends as he bore down on the Rams’ stopper. Jonathan Mitchell’s hesitation allowed Gooch the chance to block his clearance and while the USA international collided into ‘keeper, Rees Greenwood was unable to force the issue as his effort landed kindly in Mitchell’s gloves.
Derby edged their way back into contention as a brief lull in proceedings saw the league’s top-scorer Charles Vernam get his foot on the ball and begin to find his feet.
But the young Black Cats hit back as Asoro chested down into the George Honeyman’s path and he tried his luck from 25 yards. While it was a routine stop for Mitchell, moments later he was back pedalling as Love spotted Robson’s run from deep and the midfielder saw his header rebound off the top of the bar as the Lads ended the first period on top.
Sunderland returned refreshed and recharged for the second period with Greenwood, Honeyman and Gooch laying siege on Derby’s goal.
Asoro then went close with a fierce drive into the side netting before Greenwood had the Rams' backline on their toes as he twisted inside and out before forcing Mitchell to make a smart stop at his near post.
The Black Cats were certainly playing with a swagger and had their tails up as Gooch continued to torment the Rams with his intricate link-up play.
But then Derby struck against the run of play as Sunderland failed to clear their lines from a corner from the left - the ball hit Babos and rolled perilously over the line.
Sunderland struck back though and deservedly levelled on 76 minutes as Honeyman and Greenwood combined perfectly inside the area, Honeyman nabbed the ball away from Mitchell, Gooch took over before Wright bundled the ball over the line.
However, the lads’ efforts were undone straight away as Mika fumbled the ball and Gordon was there to slot home and restore the visitors lead.
Sunderland continued to plug away and earned a share of the spoils late on as Josh Maja was bundled to the floor inside the box and Tom Beadling dispatched the penalty with plenty of purpose.
Sunderland: Mika, T Robson, Beadling, Brady, J Robson, Love (Wright 70), E Robson, Honeyman, Gooch, Greenwood, Asoro (Maja, 77)
Unused subs: Stryjek, Embleton, Molyneux
Derby County: Mitchell, Stabana, MacDonald, Guy, Cover, Lelan, Gordon, Vernam, Jakobsen (Walker, 64), babos, Bennett (Edwards, 87)
Unused subs: Ravas, Bateman, Bogle