Sunderland Under-23s 2 Notts County 1: Late show takes Cats through in Checkatrade Trophy
Sunderland Under-23s have qualified for the knockout stages of the Checkatrade Trophy after a late 2-1 win over League Two Notts County.
Ex-Newcastle United striker Adam Campbell opened the scoring for the visitors four minutes into the second half but two late goals rescued victory for Sunderland.
Sub Josh Maja scored in the 84th minute to equalise before a Haydn Hollis own goal in the 90th minute sealed victory for the hosts at a sparse Stadium of Light.
Sunderland qualify from the group stages along with group winners Rochdale.
League Two County, lining up in 4-4-2 formation, won two early corners in a dominating opening five-minute spell.
Vito Mannone, on his return to competitive action after an operation on his shoulder, looked confident as he came and gathered the ball.
County, backed by about 40 away fans, were almost undone seven minutes in. The ball broke to winger Rees Greenwood who curled an effort just wide of the right-hand post.
Moments later, George Honeyman found himself in an almost identical position but his effort also sailed just wide of Scott Loach’s post.
Sunderland, led by Robbie Stockdale, had grown into the game, with Seb Larsson dictating play as he makes his way back from knee surgery in the summer.
The Swedish midfielder returned to training a full three months ahead of schedule and he continued his comeback against County at a bitterly cold Stadium of Light.
County keeper Loach was brave 23 minutes in, diving at the feet of Honeyman as he bore down on goal, a smart save to deny the 22-year-old.
Moments later, County almost took the lead through Graham Burke, he cut in from the right flank before shooting low towards the left-hand corner of goal from 25-yards.
Mannone was down quickly to push the ball wide for a corner.
Sunderland were playing the ball around nicely, with Larsson at the heart of every move but County’s threat was clear. And they almost took the lead 32 minutes in.
Mannone was called on to make a superb one-handed save to push Alan Smith’s goal-bound header over the Sunderland crossbar.
Asoro, leading the line for the Black Cats, headed wide from a Honeyman centre with neither side able to find a breakthrough.
Smith’s header was the closest either side came as the first-half ended goalless.
Half-time: Sunderland Under-23s 0 Notts County 0
County started the second-half strongly and took the lead after just four minutes of the re-start.
Mannone saved well from Hollis, the ball going out for a corner and from that set piece, County took the lead.
Ex-Newcastle United striker Campbell hooked the ball home from close range.
Love then swept an effort just wide of the right-hand post as Sunderland looked to hit back quickly, the cross was aimed for Larsson but curled wide.
County - sixth in League Two - were pressing for a second with Sunderland unable to get into any rhythm in the second half.
Smith should have doubled the lead 62 minutes in, Burke and Campbell combined before laying the ball off to the former Leeds and Manchester United man.
He couldn’t make a good contact and Mannone saved well with his legs to deflect the ball around the post for a corner.
Sunderland produced their best move of the game 67 minutes in, the ball breaking to Greenwood 20-yards out but he could only see his effort curl wide of the upright.
County continued to press but Sunderland withheld the pressure and got the equaliser six minutes from time. Sub Luke Molyneux was a lively addition to the side.
He slid fellow sub Josh Maja in and he did well to slide the ball under Loach from eight-yards out to level the scores.
The game turned on its head in the 90th minute, Haydn Hollis diverting the ball into his own net from a Seb Larsson cross.
Victory ensured Sunderland qualified from Northern Group F with seven points from their three games, finishing as runners-up ahead of the draw for the knockout stages.
The draw takes place at 10.30am on Thursday.
Full-time: Sunderland Under-23s 2 Notts County 1
Sunderland (4-2-3-1): Mannone, Joshua Robson (Molyneux, 78), Brady, Ledger, Tommy Robson, Love, Denayer, Honeyman, Greenwood, Larsson (C), Asoro (Maja, 58).
Subs Not Used: Talbot, Wright, Casey, Pybus, Poame.
Goals: Maja (84), Hollis OG (90)
Notts County (4-4-2): Loach, Laing (C), Duffy, Hollis, Dickinson, Tootle, Newitt, Burke (Milsom, 78), Campbell, Smith (Oliver, 75), Snijders (Forte, 90)
Subs Not Used: Collin, Aborah, O’Connor, Richards.
Booked: Smith (75)
Goals: Campbell (49)
Referee: Ross Joyce