SUNDERLAND Boys’ Under-13s are national champions – after winning the English Schools FA’s Inter-Association PlayStation Schools’ Cup.
The impressive Wearsiders edged a thrilling 3-2 final victory over Bedfordshire at Reading’s Madejski Stadium.
Sunderland – given a pre-match team talk by Tottenham’s former Sunderland loan star Danny Rose – turned in a magnificent first-half performance to delight watching family and friends, storming three goals ahead.
Man-of-the-match Ryan Leonard was the stand-out performer, making the breakthrough with a a fantastic solo effort before doubling his side’s lead with an effort from the edge of the box.
Sunderland maintained their quality play to go 3-0 up when Layton Watts expertly chipped the Bedford goalkeeper.
Bedford improved on the resumption and staged a comeback, scoring twice to get within a goal of taking the final to extra time, but the Wearsiders came through a tense final few minutes to spark wild celebrations among the travelling contingent.
The final was the culmination of three days of the PlayStation Schools’ Cup Festival at the Madejski, with 15 finals for secondary schools players taking place.
Sunderland striker Connor Wickham visited the Madejski earlier in the week, and enthused: “The PlayStation Schools’ Cup is a fantastic way to give more kids a chance to represent their school and nurture their talent.
“Playing in a big, professional stadium at such a young age prepares these players for the next step in their careers and I was so impressed with the standard of football on show.
“There was a great atmosphere in the stands do and you can see how hard PlayStation has worked to accommodate fans and make sure they’re part of the occasion too.”
Preparations for the final were not straightforward for Sunderland Boys, as a change in venue from Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough to the Madejski resulted in a two-day trip at considerable expense and travelling.
Hotel costs in the Reading area, compounded by the Chelsea Flower Show, resulted in an overnight stay in Harlow, Essex, and a further journey from there to the final.
In contrast, opponents Bedford had a short journey from home.
Sunderland had won through to the final by beating Darlington 4-0 away, Allerdale 4-0 at home, Middlesbrough 5-1 away, Preston 3-2 away and East Riding 2-0 at home.
The national success made it two trophies for the city Boys, as they recently landed the regional A.F. Hardy Trophy, defeating Chester-le-Street, Washington and Derwentside Boys on penalties in the final following a 1-1 draw after extra time.
The Sunderland squad, managed by Stuart Brand, featured Ryan Leonard, Henry Dorward, Layton Watts, Alex Johnson, Sam Robinson, Max Allen, Thomas Scothern, Luke Pearn, Michael Colquhoun, Luke Ridley, Kieran Charlton, Keaton Marrs, Brad Allen, Jonny Langley, Joe Sloan and Josh Elcoate.
* See today’s Sunderland Echo for pictures of the victorious Sunderland Boys team