Lynden Gooch made his return from injury and completed a planned 60 minutes as Sunderland under-23s were held to a goalless draw at home to Liverpool on Sunday.
Gooch spearheaded the Black Cats’ attack and created numerous chances in an enthralling opening period, Joel Asoro was denied by Kamil Grabara before Tom Beadling rammed his attempt into the side netting.
Max Stryjek played his part in goal at the other end to keep the scores level, reading the danger time and time again to deny Matty Virtue and Madger Gomes most notably.
Asoro was stretched off early in the second period before Josh Maja saw his effort cleared off the line and Ethan Robson and Luke Molyneux were both denied by the woodwork.
Liverpool came on strong in the closing stages but the lads held firm and secured their third clean sheet in as many games.
David Moyes was handed a major boost over the fitness of American international Gooch who made his return from nine weeks on the sidelines.
The 21-year-old played his first minutes since recovering from an ankle ligament injury which was sustained in an under-23s match against Tottenham Hotspur in November.
With the drawn of a new era beckoning for the development side, new boss Elliott Dickman watched from the dugouts as Cliff Byrne took charge of their first game without Andy Welsh who departed to Wigan Athletic in midweek.
And the new boss will have been pleased with the early signs as Gooch and Andrew Nelson were their tenacious selves and refused to give Liverpool’s backline a moment’s peace.
Gooch flashed a drilled strike into a Reds defender as Sunderland mustered their first attempt on goal seven minutes in before Sheyi Ojo’s free-kick gave Max Stryjek something to think about as it swayed wildly in the air minutes later.
Liverpool slowly got to grips with the game, Gomes looped a deflected strike narrowly over the bar and then Connor Masterson glanced the resultant corner inches wide of the far post.
Asoro’s pace in behind caused issues as Grabara smartly stopped at the Swede at his feet, Gooch was then strong as he spun his man and fed Asoro, however the linesman adjudged the pacey striker to have been in an offside position as he went through one-on-one.
The visitors hit back, though, Stryjek came off his line to deny Virtue who slipped through on goal before Rhian Brewster spun inside the six-yard box only to again be denied by the Polish stopper.
Nelson continued to be his industrious self as he covered every blade of grass in an attempt to get Sunderland up the pitch, and on 37 minutes it should’ve been 1-0 to the lads as Beadling rifled a strike into the side netting.
The second period begun in the worst possible fashion for the under-23s and Moyes, Asoro was cynically stopped in his tracks by Jordan Williams’ outstretched leg and that proved to be the 17-year-old’s final act as he was stretchered off.
Tackles continues to fly in from both sides as there was little difference, Ethan Robson smacked the frame of the goal with an outrageous free-kick from 25 yards before Gomes tried his luck from a similar distance only to be denied by Stryjek.
Josh Maja replaced Gooch on the hour mark as the American successfully completed a planned run out to help him get back up to speed following his lengthy lay-off.
And the Magician was involved straight away, Rees Greenwood flashes a dangerous ball into the six-yard box, Maja got a touch on it but Liverpool got bodies back and managed to scramble it away.
Sunderland continued to turn the screw but again drew a blank as Molyneux’s effort rebounded off the crossbar.
Liverpool came on strong in the closing stages, Ojo flashed an attempt marginally wide, but the lads held firm and secured their third clean sheet in as many games.
Sunderland: Stryjek, J Robson, Brady, Ledger, T Robson, Beadling, Gooch (Maja, 62), E Robson, Nelson, Asoro (Molyneux, 50), Greenwood.
Subs not used: Talbot, Hume, Wright
Liverpool: Grabara, Whelan, Hart, Masterson, Phillips, Williams, Ojo, Virtue, Brenster, Alves (Gomes 85), Gomes
Subs not used: Brewitt, Kelleher, Brimmer, Lewis