A LITTLE BIT of first-team pedigree can go a long way amidst the youthful exuberance of Under-21 football.
Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths may not have been particularly chuffed to be travelling to Wearside on the night of the first-team’s Christmas bash.
But while his work-rate was perhaps questionable at times during the first half, Griffiths’ pedigree shone through in the second, to leave Sunderland U21s struggling to qualify for the knock-out stages of the inaugural Premier League International Cup.
Ex-Wolves frontman Griffiths produced two predatory finishes and could easily have come away with the match-ball, as he made Sunderland pay for a glaring second half miss.
That was perhaps harsh on the Black Cats who had matched Celtic for long periods, yet the visitors undoubtedly finished the encounter well on top.
In front of a host of lower league scouts, Mikael Mandron was Sunderland’s predominant goal threat, although Lynden Gooch was a danger on the right with his pace and was denied a spectacular effort by the woodwork.
Mandron produced a decent individual effort in the opening stages when he collected the ball midway inside the Celtic half, drove towards the opposition penalty area and had a crack with a powerful shot which rustled the side netting.
Sunderland opened the scoring in the 18th minute when Connor Oliver’s left wing corner picked out David Ferguson at the far post and the defender headed past static Celtic keeper Leonardo Fasan.
Celtic could have immediately equalised from a corner of their own, but Griffiths blazed a volley over at the back stick after Sunderland keeper Maksymilian Stryjek flapped at the set piece.
The woodwork denied Sunderland a second in the 34th minute when Gooch cut inside from the right and curled a shot from 30 yards which crashed flush off the bar.
Four minutes before the interval, Carl Lawson picked out Oliver with a crossfield pass on the counter-attack, but the midfielder thrashed his shot a couple of yards wide of the post from just inside the area.
Celtic drew level seven minutes into the second half when Griffiths played a one-two with Joseph Thomson and effortlessly slid the return ball into the far corner.
Sunderland somehow failed to regain the advantage in the 65th minute when Mandron glanced Oliver’s corner on at the near post.
The ball fell to Lawson, two yards out, but rather than tucking it away, the midfielder managed to send it harmlessly back across the Celtic goal.
Celtic had a near-miss from a corner themselves in the 76th minute when Stryjek was left stranded and the ball came out to centre-half Eoghan O’Connell.
The defender drove a powerful right-footed shot from just inside the area, but it was blocked on the line through a combination of Martin Smith and Tom McNamee.
But the breakthrough came with nine minutes to go when the dangerous Griffiths found far too much room on the edge of the area and let fly with a powerful left-footed shot which had too much behind it for Stryjek to keep out.
Griffiths went close to completing a hat-trick moments later when another long-range effort was pawed away by Stryjek.
SUNDERLAND: Stryjek, Cartwright, T Robson, Oliver, McNamee, Ferguson, Gooch, Agnew (Smith 71), Mandron, Honeyman (Greenwood 71), Lawson (Blinco 84). Subs not used: Talbot, Harrison, Sukar, E Robson. Booked: Greenwood (90)
CELTIC: Fasan, Fisher, Waters, O’Connell, Findlay, Henderson, McMullan, Lindsay, Griffiths, Thomson, Tierney (Nesbitt 65). Subs not used: Hart, Kelleher, McCart, Breslin, Donnelly, Mcllduff.