Sunderland Primary Schools Boys hope to have kick-started their season with a deserved first win of their Harrison Cup campaign.
The new-look team have endured a difficult time in their early-season programme, but the signs are good – in matches and training – that the lads are gelling, with promising friendly performances against the Academy teams of Sunderland and Newcastle United lifting morale ahead of a tough Harrison Cup trip to Middlesbrough.
The annual Peter Dunn Trophy started the season, with Sunderland’s three-year reign ending.
In the opening round-robin clash, an own goal after 30 seconds against Chester-le-Street was the worst possible start, but a fine strike from outside the box by captain Jack Patterson, and a series of fine saves by Tye Dobbs, ensured a 1-1 draw.
Another own goal proved costly in a 2-0 defeat to Darlington, but a much-improved performances brought a deserved 2-0 success against Stockton in the final match, courtesy of two smart finishes from John Felton-Doyle.
Sunderland finished level on four points, with an identical record to hosts Darlington, with Chester-le-Street triumphant on a point more.
Sunderland were beaten 5-1 by a very good Wallsend side in a friendly, Patterson’s fierce, long-range strike getting them back to 3-1 before, while pushing hard for a second goal, the Tynesiders netted twice on the break.
Sunderland opened their Harrison Cup title defence with a spirited, determined performance against much-fancied Chester-le-Street in an entertaining 0-0 draw at Castletown.
Kailem Beattie and Riley Mouat both looked threatening from out wide positions and the latter was denied a penalty when tackled from behind as he got through on goal.
The failure to convert chances while on top almost came back to haunt the hosts, with Chester on top in the second half. Sunderland were indebted to keeper Dobbs, who secured a point with two excellent saves in the last minute.
Buoyed by that performance, the second Harrison Cup match was away to Stockton.
Despite falling behind early on, Sunderland raced into a 3-1 lead courtesy of two Mouat goals and a fine strike from Felton-Doyle.
Two glorious chances were missed, though, and Stockton made them pay, scoring four times in 10 minutes, capitalising on poor defending, to win 5-3.
Sunderland regrouped in the school holidays and travelled to Merseyside to play Wirral in an entertaining friendly.
Wirral scored in the last minute of the first half, before Sunderland were denied an equaliser in the closing stages when Jack Waller’s ferocious 25-yarder forced a brilliant save from the keeper.
With the boys chasing the game, Wirral made the game safe at 2-0 with a second goal in the final minute.
Sunderland then showed character to come back in a friendly against Newcastle United’s Under-10 Academy side.
They fell three goals behind before Callum Hughes reduced the arrears with a cool finish after great work from Felton-Doyle. Newcastle scored again before Mouat converted at the far post to cut the deficit to 4-2.
With Alfie Hodgson influential in midfield, Sunderland started the second half strongly and two Waller goals levelled it up, but a fine header and a cool individual finish saw the Magpies lead 6-4.
Hughes’ second goal and a late surge saw Sunderland almost equalise right on time.
The positive signs continued in an Academy of Light friendly against SAFC’s Under-11 development squad.
Waller and a clinical Felton-Doyle hat-trick had the boys four up. The Black Cats netted three times before Felton-Doyle added a clinching fourth goal, with the boys seeing out a 5-4 victory.
Back in league action, Sunderland’s growing confidence brought a welcome first Harrison Cup success against Darlington, who had won their first three matches.
Will Murphy, Adam Anderson and Callum Stanton defended heroically throughout, restricting the visitors to a handful of opportunities, although Darlington did take the lead with a fine opportunist goal that gave Dobbs little chance.
Sunderland responded excellently, though, and exerted serious pressure on the Darlington defence, with Mouat equalising from the edge of the area with a shot into the far corner of the net.
Late on, Mouat’s corner found the head of Alfie Burnside, but his header was scrambled away.
When the home side forced another corner in the final minute, Mouat again played in a delicious delivery, but this time Burnside lost his marker to bullet home a tremendous near-post header to spark wild celebrations.