Sunderland under-23s 2-1 Benfica B
Luke Molyneux scored a late winner as Sunderland under-23s opened their Premier League International Cup account with a slender victory over Benfica.
An attack minded Black Cats raced out the traps in the opening period as Joel Asoro unleashed a thunderous strike past Ivan Zlobin on 19 minutes.
It was a thoroughly deserved lead but the hosts failed to force home their dominance as they went on to squander a host of close-range efforts following a goalmouth scramble.
Benfica come out in the second period a different team and looked a lot more solid as Heriberto Tavares capitalised on loose defending on to level things up.
But Sunderland rallied late on and Molyneux slotted home George Honeyman’s dragged shot to secure all three points on a bitterly cold night at Eppleton.
Sunderland under-23s approached the game with a spring in their step after securing their route into the second round of the Checkatrade Trophy last week.
Second-half substitute Josh Maja inspired the Lads to victory over League Two outfit Notts County as his effort helped the Black Cats come from behind in the final 10 minutes.
Maja was rewarded for his fine return of two goals in as many matches by Andy Welsh and was named in his starting line-up alongside Swedish starlet Asoro and the ever creative Honeyman.
Elliot Embleton and Ethan Robson plied their industrious trade in the centre of the park while Rees Greenwood offered an outlet on the left flank.
Playing an attack minded system, Sunderland went about looking to take the game to the visitors who had made the mammoth trip from Portugal on Thursday.
Asoro and Maja combined in the opening stages but decision making in the final third saw the hosts fail to take full advantage of their dominance.
Max Stryjek was presented with a number of glove warming strikes but the Polish stopper dealt with them comfortably and batted away all the Portuguese outfit threw at him.
On 19 minutes everything came together perfectly for the Lads, Asoro waltzed his way past a host of bodies and rifled a lethal strike into the bottom corner to opening the scoring.
It was nothing more than the hosts deserved, Embleton and Maja went close with further attempts as the visitors went into half-time rattled and under the cosh.
Benfica returned to the field refreshed despite temperatures dropping a few degrees during the 15 minute interval.
David Moyes, who was in attendance, watched on with his backroom staff with a Bovril in hand as Sunderland seemingly left their focus in the dressing room - Buta failed to capitalise on a stray pass when he dragged his effort wide from 18 yards.
That almost came as a wake-up call for the Black Cats as George Brady was then denied by the crossbar following a powerful header off a corner from the left-hand side.
However, the visitors didn’t have to wait much longer to find a route back into the game as Tavares provided the deadly touch to finish off a goalmouth scramble.
Sunderland though to their credit reacted well to being pegged back and Embleton went about his business in the middle of the park to drive the Lads forward.
Forward pass after forward pass saw the Lads climb the pitch before Honeyman’s deft touch inside the area saw Greenwood bend his effort high and wide of the mark.
Robson also joined in on the action as his fierce drive smacked against a Benfica body before Stryjek made a splendid one-handed save at the other end to keep the scores level.
Sunderland continued to rally late on and second-half sub Luke Molyneux proved to be the difference as he slotted home Honeyman’s dragged shot and secure a winning start to their Premier League International Cup campaign .in the closing stages.
Sunderland: Stryjek, T Robson, J Robson, E Robson, Ledger, Brady (Casey, 78), Asoro, Embleton, Maja (Molyneux, 81), Honeyman
Unused subs: Talbot, Blinco, Pybus, Wright, Poame