Sunderland could not extend their unbeaten Under-18 Premier League run to a third game on Saturday, as Derby County ran out 3-1 winners.
The Rams started the brighter, taking a sixth-minute lead when Jayden Mitchell-Lawson slotted home as visiting keeper Michael Woud was caught in no man’s land, following a ball over the top of the defence.
Sunderland rallied and deservedly equalised in the 25th minute when striker Ben Kimpioka struck. Brandon Taylor fed Jack Connolly, who slipped the ball to Kimpioka.
His first attempt was blocked by keeper Matt Yates, but the powerful striker continued his run and to hit home on the rebound.
The young Black Cats continued their pressure but were unable to add a second goal.
Hosts Derby seemed a totally different side in the second half, increasingly pressuring the Sunderland defence, and were duly rewarded in the 50th minute, when Oscar Krusnell was beaten down the right, with the ball crossed for Jordan Brown to head home.
Harry Goode twisted and turned to beat Jack Diamond before firing home a third goal on 73 minutes.
The defeat leaves Sunderland bottom of the table, level on points with Wolves but with an inferior goal difference with only one game remaining to the Midlands side’s two.
Sunderland coach Mark Atkinson said: “The game was very similar to Tuesday’s game at Newcastle (a 2-2 draw). We were the better side in the first half despite conceding first, but quickly recovered to equalise. Derby threw everything at us in the second half and, unfortunately, we paid the price.”
Derby County: Yates, Goode, Mills, Mango, Rashid, C Thomas, Jibodu, Dixon, Cresswell, Brown, Mitchell-Lawson. Subs not used: Whittaker, Fryatt, Davie, Buchanan, Minkley.
Sunderland: Woud, Gamble (Hickey 45), Krusnell (Howard 75), Taylor, Young, Connolly, Allan, Diamond (Slack 78), Hackett, Kimpioka, Connelly. Subs not used: Newman, Scothern.