David Moyes was watching on as Sunderland Under-23s kicked-off their Premier League International Cup campaign with a 2-1 win over Benfica B tonight.
Teenager Joel Asoro scored a stunning goal 19 minutes in to open the scoring before the Portuguese outfit equalised through Heriberto Tavares’ close-range finish.
Sunderland hit back strongly though and sub Luke Molyneux hit the winner four minutes from time to go second in Group A level on points with Benfica and Derby County.
Assistant Paul Bracewell plus other members of the backroom staff watched along with Moyes at a bitterly cold Eppleton CW ground, in Hetton.
The plunging temperatures didn’t prevent the London Supporters’ branch of SL Benfica from enjoying themselves, though, chanting from the balcony of the Hetton Centre.
Ex-Middlesbrough defender Jonathan Woodgate was also among the crowd, Woodgate joined Liverpool in the summer as scout focusing on players in continental Europe – especially Spain and Portugal.
And he will have been impressed with SL Benfica’s build-up play, the Portuguese outfit keeping possession well, probing and pressing, Aurelio Buta forcing Max Stryjek into a comfortable save early on.
Sunderland, though, were more than holding their own and took the lead 19 minutes in thanks to a superb solo strike from Asoro.
The Swedish Under-21 international cut in from the right flank, comfortably beat two men – nutmegging one – before curling a fine effort in off the left-hand post, giving Ivan Zlobin no chance.
He was in again moments later, beating Pedro Aharal at right-back but he couldn’t pick out the impressive Josh Maja in the centre.
Euciodalcio Gomes tried his luck from distance 23 minutes in but Stryjek was behind it all the way.
Sunderland lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Under-23 top scorer George Honeyman always involved playing in the No 10 role behind Maja.
The Black Cats almost doubled their lead two minutes before half-time, Zlobin down low to save well from Ethan Robson’s low effort after being put in by Tommy Robson on the left.
Sunderland deservedly went into the break with a narrow 1-0 lead against their Portuguese counterparts, who showed a lot of promise but offered little final product.
Benfica showed more attacking threat in the second half and should have equalised 58 minutes in.
Buta beat Michael Ledger to the ball outside the area but dragged his shot well wide.
A poor effort, the Benfica forward should have done more to threaten Stryjek’s goal.
Moments later, George Brady saw a header cannon back off the crossbar from a Rees Greenwood corner. Sunderland were made to pay.
Benfica hit back just past the hour mark, sub Tavares – who had been on the pitch less than a minute – poked the ball home following a goalmouth scramble.
It was a poor goal to concede from Sunderland’s point of view.
Andy Welsh’s side then took the game to Benfica, with skipper Tommy Robson and Greenwood causing problems down the left.
Joao Carvalho, who was enjoying a strong second half, saw a close-range effort palmed high into the air by Stryjek, the keeper then catching the ball as it fell.
It was a fiercely competitive encounter, with both sides pressing for a winner in the final stages of the game.
Sub Dan Casey did well to clear from his own six-yard line after Alan Domingues threatened to cut open the Sunderland defence.
Sunderland kept pressing and they scored the winner in the 86th minute, Honeyman’s shot deflected into the path of sub Molyneux who side-footed the ball past Zlobin.
They had to hold on, though, with Greenwood producing a fine sliding tackle to deny Domingues from playing the ball across the face of the Sunderland goal late on.
Full-time: Sunderland Under-23s 2 Benfica B 1
Sunderland (4-2-3-1): Stryjek, Josh Robson, Brady (Casey, 78), Ledger, Tommy Robson (C), Ethan Robson, Embleton, Honeyman, Greenwood, Asoro, Maja (Molyneux, 81).
Subs Not Used: Talbot, Blinco, Pybus, Wright, Poame.
Goals: Asoro (19), Molyneux (86)
Benfica (4-2-3-1): Zlobin, Costa, Aharal, Escoval, Dias (C), Domingues, Gomes, Gonclaves (Tavares, 62), Rodrigues , (Saponjic, 62), Carvalho, Buta (Balde, 70)
Subs Not Used: Ferreira, Linhares, Ribeiro, Ferreira.
Booked: Escoval (88)
Goals: Tavares (63)
Referee: S. Rushton.