SUNDERLAND regained top spot in Group D of the FA Premier Academy League with yesterday’s 2-1 hard-fought win at Derby County, writes NEVILLE PILKINGTON.
But victory did not come without a scare as striker Ryan Noble, looking set for a place on the first-team bench on Saturday, had to come off after just 15 minutes.
He caught his studs in the turf and jarred his knee.
His substitution is thought to be only a precautionary measure, but Noble did miss valuable match practice.
Sunderland made it four wins on the trot in their Spring surge towards the group title and are now three points ahead of second-placed Nottingham Forest, with a game in hand. There are only three games left to play – away to Stoke on Saturday, plus home dates with Leeds and Manchester City.
Derby opened well in the hot conditions on an excellent pitch, but Sunderland came back with Jordan Laidler forcing a good save.
Noble’s replacement, Adam Mitchell, opened the scoring in the 24th minute. Mitchell pulled the ball back to Laidler, whose shot was cleared off the line, but rebounded back to Mitchell, who banged the ball home.
Sunderland goalkeeper Lewis King had to be alert to tip over shortly afterwards but was beaten four minutes before the break when the Rams caught the visitors on the break and Kealan Dillon scored with a shot from the edge of the box.
The young Black Cats recovered from the setback to get the upper hand in the second period. Mitchell took one touch too many following a great pass over the top by Louis Laing and the same player twice shot over from good positions.
James Armstrong headed just wide, but the pressure finally succeeded with the breakthrough seven minutes from time.
A furious melee developed in front of the Derby goal, with Mitchell finally getting in a shot which was blocked, but the ball fell back to Laidler, who smashed it home.
Coach Kevin Ball said: “I was delighted – Derby were strong and made it a good game, but we deserved the win.”
SUNDERLAND: King, Marrs, Bagnall, Laing, Adams, Harrison (Brace 68), Gorrin (Oliver 60), Armstrong, Elliott, Noble (Mitchell 15), Laidler