TITUS Bramble, Fraizer Campbell and James McFadden all completed a much-needed 90 minutes today as Sunderland’s Under-21s secured the biggest win of Kevin Ball’s stewardship.
Sunderland are allowed to field three over-age players in their development squad and the trio, who were all on the bench for Sunday’s defeat at Norwich City, took the chance to boost their match sharpness during a 4-1 win over Stoke City at the Academy of Light.
Centre-half Bramble enjoyed his first competitive action since returning to training a fortnight ago after shaking off a hip problem.
Striker Campbell, who has been restricted to brief outings from the bench for the first team this season, got on the scoresheet, while Bosman arrival McFadden strongly pushed his claims for a Sunderland debut before his short-term deal expires in January.
The experience advantage proved telling for Ball’s side, as Sunderland brought an end to a four-game winless streak.
“It was good for the younger players to get a chance to play alongside the experienced players,” Ball told the club website.
“We were the most experienced side, therefore you would have expected us to win, but what pleased me was the way we approached the game.
“We played well and there was some good football played and superb attitude shown by the players.
“We created lots of chances and maybe should have scored more.”
Ji Dong-won, back in the starting line-up for the U21s after recovering from injury, had an early effort cleared off the line by Stoke defender Jordan Keane, following McFadden’s reverse ball.
Adam Mitchell saw his free-kick tipped over the top by Stoke keeper Daniel Bachmann before Campbell fired a shot straight at the stopper after being picked out by Ji’s through-ball.
The breakthrough arrived in the 26th minute when Bramble’s shot from a corner took a hefty deflection before nestling in the net.
Sunderland right-back Liam Marrs drove a shot straight at Bachmann before Campbell blazed over from point-blank range on the stroke of half-time after being picked out by Ji’s knock-down.
It took until the 59th minute for the second to arrive when Campbell was felled in the box by Ben Heneghan.
Adam Reed stepped up and sent Bachmann the wrong way from the spot.
Ji added a third with his first goal of the season for the U21s eight minutes later when he was picked out by McFadden’s superb through-ball and slid the ball under Bachmann.
Campbell quickly followed suit when he turned home Mitchell’s cross for Sunderland’s fourth.
Karim Rossi grabbed a consolation for Stoke in stoppage time when he burst into the box and powered a shot past Ben Wilson at the near post.
SUNDERLAND: Wilson, Marrs, Oliver, Bramble, Ferguson (Harrison 90), Gorrin, Reed (Joyce 90), Mitchell, Ji, McFadden, Campbell. Subs not used: Laidler, Pickford, Deacon
STOKE: Bachmann, Keane, Heneghan, Parry, Clarkson, Dawson, Richardson, Williams, Musungu, Rossi, Alabi (Nardiello 63). Subs not used: Eve, Thomas, Glasgow, Campbell.
SUNDERLAND Under-21s’ clash with Spurs next week will now take place at the Academy of Light, rather than Eppleton CW.
The game had been due to take place at Eppleton on Monday (kick-off 7pm), but it will now be played behind closed doors on the same day.
Any supporters who have bought a ticket should contact the ticket office for a refund.