U23s Report: Blackburn 0-1 Sunderland

Blackburn Rovers U23 0-1 Sunderland U23

Josh Maja’s solitary goal ensured Sunderland topped their Premier League Cup group at the expense of Blackburn Rovers on Thursday afternoon.

The Black Cats romped out the traps in the opening stages, Maja incisively finished off his golden chance on 24 minutes following Elliot Embleton’s slipped pass.

Blackburn dug deep in the second period but rarely tested Republic of Ireland stopper James Talbot who clinched a confidence boosting clean sheet.

The result sees the Lads leapfrog Rovers and top Group B as they both advance to the last 16 stage of the competition.

Battered and bruised from Monday’s defeat at Burnley, Elliott Dickman called for the character within his development team to shine through at a wind-swept Blackburn Rovers Academy.

George Brady returned to the heart of the Black Cats’ backline to add some much needed leadership to proceedings as Dickman made two changes to his starting line-up, with Dan Wright also being called upon to replace Rees Greenwood.

For Blackburn Rovers, though, Damien Johnson named strong side which included former Sunderland man Wes Brown.

Both sides went into the game knowing they had already qualified for the last 16 of the Premier League Cup, however, with the winner of Group B still to be decided, there was plenty at stake.

Game on.

The Black Cats began the afternoon well, knocking the ball around confidently in tight spaces and spreading play when necessary.

New Zealand international Sam Brotherton lifted Maja in behind with a well-crafted pass to great the first chance of the afternoon, but veteran defender Brown was more than wise to the danger and came across to deny any goalscoring chance from materialising.

Lewis Mansell provided a physical threat up top for Rovers, using his tall frame to an advantage as he tussled with Brotherton and Brady for a yard of space inside the area.

Sunderland were forced to be patient but always looked a threat on either wing, Luke Molyneux and Denver Hume combine well on 11 minutes but as Asoro looked for the pullback he was unable to guide his effort on target.

Light rain covered the pitch as the half wore on, Rovers turned up the heat and carved out two big chances - Lewis Mansell volleyed over from six yards before James Talbot bravely came off his line to stop Joe Rankin-Costello in his tracks.

With 24 minutes on the clock the pendulum swung in the Lads’ favour, Embleton slipped Maja through and the London-born striker made no mistake from inside the area.

It was a goal that settled the Black Cats into their groove, and before the half was finished Asoro and Brady were denied to adding to the scoreline.

Unsurprisingly Rovers came on strong following the midway interval, however, Talbot was rarely troubled between the posts.

As the rain picked up, so did Sunderland as they brought a sencse of calm to proceedings and began to work their way up the pitch.

Asoro flashed a ball across the face of goal before Brady headed wide from Embleton’s right-hand side corner. Maja then tried an ambitious drive from range but Raya was equal to it and held onto it well.

Owen Gamble replaced Asoro in the closing stages to add further steel to the Black Cats’ midfield, and from there Sunderland held firm.

The result sees the Lads leapfrog Rovers and top Group B as they both advance to the last 16 stage of the competition.

Top drawer, Lads!

Blackburn Rovers: Raya, Travis, Hendrie (Pemberton, 74), Tomlinson, Brown, Grayson, Henley (Mols, 30), Hardcastle (c), Mansell (Hendry, 82), Butterworth, Rankin-Costello.

Subs not used: Magloire, Powell (GK).

Sunderland: Talbot, J Robson, Hume, Brady, Brotherton, Embleton, Wright, E Robson, Molyneux, Asoro (Gamble, 77), Maja

Subs not used: Casey, Stryjek, Allan, Diamond

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