SUNDERLAND Reserves progressed to the ToteSport Cup final in a semi-final goal feast against Preston in the Academy of Light sunshine yesterday, writes Neville Pilkington.
Keith Bertschin’s side included two young trialists – Jason Banton from Liverpool and Roarie Deacon from Arsenal – and both had promising games with Banton on the right wing and Deacon, in particular, showing well in midfield.
Sunderland were ahead after only two minutes when left-back Blair Adams went down the flank to the line and pulled back for Craig Lynch to control, look up and fire into the top corner.
After more pressure, the Wearsiders doubled the lead on 14 minutes when Benton crossed to the far post. Ryan Noble headed back across goal for Matthew Fletcher to bang the ball in from close range.
The hosts looked to be out of sight when Noble made it 3-0 on 36 minutes, scuffing home Banton’s cross just inside the far post.
Then Banton forced a great save from Preston keeper Dominic Comrie but, almost unbelievably, three more goals in the three minutes before half-time turned the game on its head.
First, Preston came back when Neil Dougan’s shot was deflected in off Louis Laing for an unfortunate own goal.
Sunderland went straight down the field from the kick-off for Noble to finish well from Lynch’s perceptive through ball, but there was just time for the Lancashire side to once again cut the deficit to 4-2 – Sunderland keeper Trevor Carson brought down Under-16 starlet Brandon Zibaka and Alan Sheehan sent the Northern Irishman the wrong way with the resulting penalty.
Sunderland looked far less confident in a nervy opening to the second period and it was game on in the 62nd minute when North End’s Michael McLellan chased a long ball down the middle to plant the ball past Carson.
However, the home side regrouped and settled to regain their composure with some thoughtful passing, retaining possession for long periods in order to dictate the play and take the sting out of the game.
Three minutes from time, they made sure of victory with a well-worked fifth goal. Just like the first, it was created once again by the attacking instincts of Adams, who burst down the left to go clear and centre low across goal. Billy Knott, showing astute anticipation, came racing in to sidefoot home.
It had all been rather frantic, with the game unnecessarily close after such a commanding opening spell by the Red and Whites. But they are through to a final which, because of time difficulties, will not be fitted in until the start of next season.
Coach Keith Bertschin said: “There should be no difficulty at 3-0 up, but when 4-1 becomes 4-2 nerves creep in. The next goal was crucial and, with the wind behind them, they got it and it was game on. The match should have been over after half-an-hour or so, but, still, we go through.”
Preston coach David Unsworth commented: “At half-time, we feared the worst but we changed out formation around and we really, really frustrated them in the second half.
“We got it back to 4-3 and they were panicking. It was a good game, a great second half from the lads, who worked their socks off.”
SUNDERLAND RES: Carson, Bagnall, Laing, Liddle, Adams, Banton (Mitchell 45), Deacon, Knott, Fletcher, Lynch, Noble.
PRESTON RES: Comrie, Thurston, Sheehan, Miller, Holtom, Hart, Dudley (Clark 46), Clucas, McLellan (El-Harrati 84) Zibaka (Davies 61). Dougan.