SUNDERLAND suffered penalty shoot-out heartache to lose their FA Premier Academy League play-off semi-final last night, writes Neville Pilkington.
Kevin Ball’s side twice came from behind to level in a 3-3 thriller at Motspur Park, near Kingston in sunny Surrey, but the Londoners won 4-1 in the shoot-out, with George Honeyman hitting the bar and James Armstrong being denied by a superb save.
It was a pulsating game from start to finish, played in red-hot conditions and it was the visitors who took a deserved lead in the ninth minute. A poor defensive header fell to Craig Lynch inside the box and the striker looked up to bend the ball immaculately into the top corner.
Fulham came back with a vengeance – frontmen Kerim Frei and Charles Banya were lightning fast and caused Sunderland all sorts of problems. Consequently, the Red and Whites had to thank keeper Lewis King for five magnificent saves to still be ahead at the break.
But the Londoners did make a double breakthrough early in the second half. Alex Smith finished smartly after a mix-up in Sunderland’s defence on 52 minutes, then the hosts went close with Marcello Trotta firing just wide.
Italian Trotta put Fulham in front with 20 minutes left, jinking his way through the defence before beating King from a tight angle, but Sunderland deservedly levelled within three minutes, Lynch playing in Jordan Laidler for the striker to finish well.
Although Sunderland defender John Egan had a header cleared off the line and the visitors had a good shout for a penalty when substitute George Honeyman was brought down, it was still 2-2 after 90 minutes, forcing the game into extra time.
Once again the Cottagers took the lead, Frei working space to hit a low shot past King in the 93rd minute, but Sunderland fought back to equalise for the second time when Honeyman fed Alex Gorrin who blasted home a low strike from 25 yards which flew past the outstretched hand of keeper Grant Smith.
It was still level at 3-3 at the final whistle, but the penalty shoot-out went Fulham’s way. The hosts scored four times – courtesy of Josh Pritchard, Lewis Smith, Corey Gameiro and Frei – to Laidler’s lone success for Sunderland, with both Honeyman and James Armstrong failing from the spot.
Coach Kevin Ball said: “It was a really excellent game which neither side deserved to lose.
“We thought it was a blatant penalty. They were a good side, but we matched them. Into extra time, I thought there was only one team that was going to win it, and that was us, but we just couldn’t clinch it.”
FULHAM: G Smith, Marquez-Sanchez, Toure, Arthurworrey, A Smith, Banya (Gameiro 62), Minkwitz (Bettache 96), Brister (Peniket 91), Pritchard, Trotta, Frei
SUNDERLAND: King, Marrs, Egan, Laing, Adams, Gorrin, Knott (Honeyman 91), Armstrong, Elliott (Mitchell 45), Lynch, Laidler.