DAVID Healy blew the chance for an injury-time equaliser from the penalty spot as Sunderland’s second string went down 2-1 to Blackburn Rovers.
The Northern Ireland striker, the only senior player on show in a disjointed encounter between two youthful sides, looked to have earned Sunderland a share of the spoils at the death when he slid home from eight yards to cap a frantic final 15 minutes.
But referee Richard Clark had already awarded a spot-kick for a foul on Adam Reed and Healy was unable to find the net a second time.
Sunderland arguably edged an opening 45 minutes when both sides hit the crossbar, with Adam Reed scrapping effectively in central midfield for the hosts.
Blackburn largely confined Keith Bertschin’s men to their own half after the break, though, and twice took the lead – the winner coming after an ugly mix-up between Sunderland keeper Ben Wilson and full-back Liam Marrs.
Sunderland were given an early scare in the sixth minute when Blackburn left-back Adam Henley curled in an inswinging cross from the left which was met at the near post by Thomas Hitchcock.
The Blackburn striker’s header had keeper Wilson stranded but the ball crashed off the crossbar.
Matthew Fletcher had Sunderland’s first chance in the 13th minute when his shot on the turn from Robbie Weir’s drilled cross was deflected wide.
Fletcher again went close in the 27th minute with a drive from the left-hand side of the area deflected by Anthony O’Connor inches wide of the woodwork.
From Nathan Luscombe’s resulting corner, Dan Madden managed to cushion a volley with his shin only for the ball to bounce off the turf and on to the bar.
Sunderland almost profited from a slick move in the 34th minute when Fletcher held the ball up well on the right-hand touchline and laid it off for Healy, whose low drive across the face of goal whistled inches wide of the far post.
Blackburn were the better side after the break, with Sunderland struggling to keep possession.
Rovers midfielder Michael Potts cleared the bar with a shot from the edge of the area in the 66th minute and he almost capped a flowing move four minutes later, but couldn’t keep his volley down from Hitchcock’s knock down.
The breakthrough finally arrived in the 74th minute, when Potts intercepted Healy’s pass and threaded the ball through to substitute Jamie Maclaren to the right of goal, who bundled his way into the box and sidefooted the ball into the far bottom corner.
But Sunderland drew level within five minutes after Craig Lynch managed to poke the ball through to Healy, eight yards out to the left of goal.
Blackburn keeper Matthew Urwin was out swiftly and managed to block the Northern Ireland striker’s effort.
But Healy kept the rebound in play on the left and rifled a cross-cum-shot across goal which was turned in on the volley at the back stick by substitute Billy Knott.
Sunderland were level until the 84th minute after an awful error from Marrs.
Hugo Fernandez Molina’s harmless ball over the top was a simple one to deal with for Marrs, but he managed to wrong-foot Ben Wilson by heading beyond the onrushing goalkeeper.
Hitchcock beat Marrs to the loose ball, sliding it home from two yards out.
Blackburn were almost gifted another in the last minute when the previously impressive Louis Laing lost the ball in the air and headed straight to Maclaren, whose looping volley over the stranded Ben Wilson was high and wide.
But in the second minute of stoppage time, Reed was brought down by Anthony O’Connor just inside the area and before Healy turned it in, referee Richard Clark blew for a spot-kick.
Healy stepped up but directed his effort against the outside of the right-hand post and behind.
Sunderland: B Wilson, Marrs, Adams, Reed, Madden, Laing, Lynch, Weir (N Wilson 76), Healy, Fletcher (Laidler 72), Luscombe (Knott 46). Subs not used: Egan, King. Booked: Reed (53), Weir (73)
Blackburn: Urwin, Ramm, Henley, Molina, Parry, O’Connor, Evans (Maclaren 68), Potts, Hitchcock, Aley, Knowles. Subs not used: Mason, Hands. Booked: Hitchcock (16)