Sunderland Under-21s beat Athletic Bilbao to reach knock-out stage of European cup

Danny Graham scores against Athletic Bilbao
Danny Graham scores against Athletic Bilbao
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Sunderland Under-21s safely secured their passage to the knock-out stages of the Premier League International Cup after beating Athletic Bilbao 2-1.

Andy Welsh's side needed just a point to qualify for the next stage of the European tournament but took all three to top Group D.

Sunderland Under-21 boss Andy Welsh

Sunderland Under-21 boss Andy Welsh

Danny Graham opened the scoring at the Stadium of Light after 34 minutes, in front of a watching Sam Allardyce, with a smart volley.

Bilbao equalised through Gorka Guruzeta moments before half-time but a late Martin Smith penalty sealed Sunderland's safe passage to the knockout stages.

Welsh, without injured duo Liam Agnew and Lynden Gooch, also named Patrick Van Aanholt in the starting line-up.

Going into the game, Sunderland's second string had already beaten Manchester City and drawn with Borussia Monchengladbach in the PL International Cup.

Bilbao, who kept the ball well and looked dangerous on the counter attack, were a tough test for Welsh's side.

Inigo Pradera nodded over from nine-yards before George Brady made a crucial block to prevent Guruzeta a clear run at goal 15 minutes in.

Pradera then wasted a glorious chance 25 minutes in, he had time and space but the Spanish forward curled his effort well wide of the right-hand post.

Sunderland, defending resolutely, were under pressure as Welsh urged his side to get further up the pitch.

And the breakthrough came in the 34th minute against the run of play.

Graham doing well to get in behind the Bilbao defence before coolly guiding the ball beyond Unai Simon.

Moments earlier he had flashed a shot across the face of goal from the rebound of Van Aanholt's well-saved free-kick.

But he made up for that miss with the opening goal.

Graham had barely touched the ball in the opening half hour but came to life after scoring, with Mendibil saving well as he bore down on goal moments later.

Their lead lasted just 10 minutes though, with Bilbao netting a deserved equaliser a minute before the break.

Guruzeta sweeping home after a flowing move to send the side's in level.

Half-Time: Sunderland 1 Athletic Bilbao 1

The start of the second half was a dull affair, with quality lacking from both sides.

Bilbao curled a free-kick just wide of Stryjek's post but neither side could get a firm grip on proceedings.

There was little to cheer for the 888 Sunderland fans who had come to watch the second string in action, with both sides struggling to create anything of note.

With 74 minutes on the clock, the game momentarily sprung into life.

Pradera's header from nine-yards was tipped over by Stryjek before Sunderland broke and Graham saw his fine effort from distance pushed round the post by Simon.

Graham was again involved 10 minutes from the end, he got on the end of a long ball forward but his dinked effort was just over the crossbar.

The winning goal came from the penalty spot.

Van Aanholt was dragged down inside the area and Smith smashed the ball home in the 83rd minute.

Sunderland's quarter-final opponents will be either Villareal, Leicester City or PSV Eindhoven.

The knockout stages are played as single-leg ties in England.

Full-Time: Sunderland Athletic 2 Bilbao 1

Sunderland (4-4-2): Stryjek, J Robson, van Aanholt, Ledger, Brady, E Robson, Smith, T Robson, Greenwood (Wright, 90), Graham, Mandron.

Subs Not Used: Purvis, Blinco, Lawson, Molyneux, Nelson, Hume.

Booked: Smith

Goals: Graham (34), Smith (83 penalty)

Athletic Bilbao (3-5-2): Simon, Iruarrizaga, Arellano, Nunez, (Sillero, 64), Bilbao, Lozano, Olaetxea, Iturraspe (Urcelay, 70), Pradera (Vicente, 80), Guruzeta, Fernandez.

Subs Not Used: Lopez, Oleaga.

Goals: Guruzeta (44)

Referee: A. Greenwood.

Attendance: 888