CONNOR Wickham flashed a first-team reminder to the watching Martin O’Neill last night with his third goal in his second U21 derby of the season.
The big striker pounced in the 21st minute of the game at the Stadium of Light, seizing on a Roarie Deacon pass into the box, to squeeze home a shot from the edge of the six-yard box.
It was his fifth goal for the Under 21 league side this season – he also has three for England Under 21s – but he struggled to sparkle in a tough night for Kevin Ball’s players, who twice had to come from behind to snatch a point.
Nile Ranger had given United the lead with a cool, low finish after team-mate Brad Inman had robbed David Vaughan just inside the Newcastle half in the ninth minute.
Inman produced a defence-splitting pass and United striker Ranger took his chance well.
Once Wickham levelled, you would have hoped a Sunderland side featuring Welsh international Vaughan in the heart of midfield, might have prospered more than it did.
But it was United who had the upper hand for the remainder of the half and it was no surprise when they extended their lead – this time Inman taking a goal rather than making one.
Jordan Pickford, who had a busy game, made a good save in a goalmouth scramble in the 37th minute but Inman was on hand to power home a low shot from just inside the 18-yard box.
Sunderland, for their part, laboured and the best they could muster before the break was an Alex Gorrin cross from the right which Wickham chested down and despatched from 12 yards only to see the shot charged down.
The home team started the second half with greater urgency and Wickham nodded a right-wing cross just over the bar from close range in the 47th minute.
But they weren’t able to maintain that early head of steam and Newcastle were able to get forward themselves in the minutes that followed.
By the time the hour approached, they were threatening to take control before a foul by Mehdi Abeid on Deacon earned the Newcastle player a booking and allowed Sunderland time to re-assert themselves.
Newcastle worked a glorious chance for Marcus Maddison in the 64th minute but the unmarked forward wasted it – lifting a left-foot shot high and wide of the target from 15 yards out.
Sunderland were handed a lifeline in the 66th minute when Wickham was held in the box and referee Gary Beswick awarded a penalty.
But Adam Reed’s right-foot shot struck the base of Jak Alnwick’s right-hand post before trickling along the line to be cleared.
Reed almost atoned a couple of minutes later when he tried to convert a cross from Wickham’s powerful run but Alnwick palmed the ball up in the air from close range and the moment passed.
Wickham adopted a shoot-on-sight policy in the minutes that followed but his efforts were inaccurate and in the 82nd minute coach Kevin Ball replaced him with striker Mikael Mandron, who joined fellow substitute Jordan Laidler in attack.
For all their worthy efforts, it seemed as though time had run out for the Wearsiders as the 90 minute mark came and went.
But then, in three minutes stoppage time added on, Craig Lynch pounced, the young striker evading two challenges in the box before stroking the ball into the net.
It was the second time this season this fixture had ended in stalemate but if Sunderland were worthy of a win at St James’s Park in their 2-2 draw; Newcastle will feel aggrieved they couldn’t see this game out at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland: Pickford, Marrs, Armstrong (sub Harrison 19), Oliver, Ferguson, Gorrin (sub Laidler 74), Vaughan, Reed, Deacon, Lynch, Wickham (sub Mandron 83). Subs not used: Wilson, Joyce.
Newcastle: Alnwick, Logan, Newton, Good, Riley, Abeid, Inman, Moyo, Maddison (sub Miele 69), Hooper, Ranger (sub Knight 69). Sub not used: Woodman, Kitchen.
Ref: Gary Beswick. Att: 1,773.