Trailing 3-0 at the interval, Sunderland’s Under-21s would gladly have accepted the proposal of their Premier League Cup tie heading into extra-time.
But after a spectacular three-goal burst inside 10 second half minutes brought Sunderland level with Liverpool at Eppleton CW, there was extra-time deflation for the Black Cats after the visitors grabbed the dramatic winner to progress into the next round with a 4-3 win.
A Sunderland side containing Danny Graham, Adam Matthews, Liam Bridcutt and Charis Mavrias had fallen to pieces after Liverpool went ahead midway through the first half, yet fought back after the break through a spectacular Ethan Robson volley and a Graham brace.
However, it was to no avail, as Sunderland were unable to get their noses in front when Liverpool were on the rack – despite a succession of opportunities – and the visitors eventually grabbed the winner.
Sunderland failed to be sufficiently clinic with several early half-chances, before Liverpool went ahead midway through the first half, despite the efforts of Black Cats keeper Max Stryjek.
The Pole produced a stunning stop to keep out Pedro Chirivella’s volley, but centre-half Joe Maguire was on hand to head home the rebound.
The goal kick-started Liverpool into gear, with the visitors dominating; Joao Texeira’s low cross tapped home by Jerome Sinclair in the 37th minute.
There was a third before the interval when Texeira was allowed too much space to cross low from the right and Sinclair got ahead of the two Sunderland centre-halves before diverting it home.
But Sunderland pulled one back six minutes after the restart when Matthews – who had been bright going forwards throughout – lifted a well-weighted cross to the back post, where Ethan Robson smashed home a volley off the woodwork.
They grabbed another in the 57th minute when Danny Graham placed it low into the bottom corner from Tommy Robson’s square pass.
Sunderland then levelled proceedings four minutes later when Graham was sent clean through by George Brady’s raking pass and the striker kept his cool to slot the ball beyond keeper Ryan Fulton.
There should have been another quick-fire goal to put Sunderland ahead, but Charis Mavrias shot wide from a pair of glorious opportunities.
Ethan Robson then saw a free-kick tipped way by Fulton, before Graham fired the rebound wide.
As the game headed into extra-time, Brady had to make a wonderful goal-line clearance to prevent Chirivella regaining the advantage for Liverpool.
And it was Liverpool who eventually regained the advantage in the 112th minute when substitute Madger Gomes collected a through-ball and burst in behind the Sunderland back-line, before coolly beating Stryjek.
Maguire was then sent off in the dying stages for bringing down Rees Greenwood when he was clean through, but Sunderland couldn’t produce a second dramatic comeback.
Sunderland: Stryjek, Matthews (Blinco 98), T Robson, E Robson, Ledger, Brady, Mavrias (J Robson 72), Bridcutt, Graham (Lawson 106), Gooch, Greenwood. Subs not used: Purvis, McEvoy. Booked: Bridcutt (33), E Robson (102)
Liverpool: Fulton, Whelan, Hart, Cleary, Maguire, Virtue-Thick, Dunn (Gomes 101), Chirivella, Sinclair, O’Hanlon, Texeira. Subs not used: Firth, Marsh, Trickett-Smith, Brewitt.