Sunderland Under-21 1 Bolton Wanderers Under-21 0
IT HAS been a summer of uncertainty for Phil Bardsley and Lee Cattermole.
Neither appear to be part of Paolo Di Canio’s Wearside “revolution” yet both are stuck in that no-man’s land of waiting to see whether a suitor shows sufficient interest to provide a meaningful opportunity elsewhere.
A run-out alongside Sunderland’s rookies at the Academy of Light yesterday provided an opportunity to demonstrate both their fitness and quality to the handful of scouts in attendance.
Yet it only served to provide further uncertainty.
Neither were guilty of being lackadaisical.
Bardsley, deployed at centre-half, was solid and encouraging towards his fellow defenders before being forced off in first-half stoppage time with an injury to his right foot after a heavy sliding tackle.
Cattermole, meanwhile, was clearly short of match fitness after being restricted to just 60 minutes of first-team football in 2013, due to knee ligament damage.
The midfielder still managed to spray a few nice crossfield passes around before being thwarted by a niggle on the stroke of half-time.
But injuries to the pair continues to leave them in transfer window purgatory, where their fitness will inevitably be questioned over the three weeks before deadline day.
To the credit of their team-mates, Kevin Ball’s side reshuffled effectively in the second half, became more threatening as the game wore on and could have won more handsomely than the one-goal margin handed to them by Jordan Laidler’s goal.
After enduring a winless run since the turn of the year too, it was a welcome boost for the club’s Under-21s to begin the campaign successfully.
“It’s nice to have a win from the first game,” said U21 coach Ball.
“I don’t think we played as well as we did in pre-season, but you have to give them a pat on the back to come through it and win the game.
“I felt we were always in control of it, but it just seemed that we never got our passing game going.
“As the game wore on, we did and I felt we created more than enough chances.
“If Bolton were going to score, it was probably going to be by a set-piece.
“But it was nice to win because they’ve worked really hard in pre-season.”
Goalkeeper Joel Dixon denied Bolton a third minute lead with a stunning stop after Liam Marrs had failed to clear Sunderland’s lines.
The ball fell to Andre Moritz, on the edge of the area, but his cushioned half-volley towards the near post was brilliantly tipped behind by a full-length save from Dixon.
The Black Cats stopper denied Moritz again in the 10th minute after pouncing on a slack pass from David Ferguson. Moritz drove the ball with a powerful right-footed shot from 20 yards, only for Dixon to tip it over the top.
The woodwork then spared Sunderland in the 20th minute when Bolton winger Tom Youngs cut inside off the right and curled a shot towards goal from the edge of the area which bounced off the top of the crossbar.
Six minutes before the break, Laidler produced a powerful right-footed effort from 25 yards which swerved in the air and required a tip over from Bolton stopper Jay Lynch.
In the second half, Dixon continued to be a thorn for Moritz - thwarting the Bolton striker as he tried to round the stopper after being fed by Zach Clough.
A stunning stop from Lynch at the other end then prevented Sunderland breaking the deadlock on the hour mark.
Cattermole’s replacement Liam Agnew played a slick one-two with Billy Knott and then tried to lift the return ball over Lynch, only for the Bolton keeper to readjust and palm the ball away.
But in the 71st minute, Sunderland went ahead when Liam Marrs crossed from the right and Laidler slid the ball home from six yards out with his left foot.
Sunderland were denied a second in the 78th minute when Agnew let fly from the edge of the area, but Lynch managed to push it away with a full-length save.
And Lynch came to the rescue again in the 82nd minute when George Honeyman fed Mitchell, but his right-footed shot towards the far corner from 12 yards was pushed away well by the Bolton stopper.
SUNDERLAND: Dixon, Marrs, Ferguson, Cattermole (Agnew 46), Harrison, Bardsley (McNamee 45), Watmore, Gorrin, Laidler, Knott (Honeyman 69), Mitchell. Subs not used: Stryjek, Lawson.
BOLTON: Lynch, White, Kellett, Threlkeld, Bolger, Vela, Clough, Gregus, Eaves, Moritz, Youngs. Subs not used: Holding, Matthews, Kelly, Walker.