Sunderland Boys’ gallant run to the quarter-finals of the Under-15 PlayStation English Schools Trophy was ended by Sefton.
The city youngsters’ dream of national glory was dashed as the Merseyside visitors won 3-1 on a very wet, cold day at the Academy of Light.
On an immaculate playing surface provided by Sunderland AFC, Sunderland Boys showed an instant offensive approach, but they were rocked on the counter-attack in the first minute, an outstretched leg making a desperate tackle which saw the ball fall kindly for oncoming Sefton forward Ben Wilkinson to finish clinically.
Better to concede a goal in the first minute than the last, so everything was still to play for.
Sefton, however, used the first 10 minutes to put a physical stamp on the game, resulting in very influential Sunderland midfielder Kieran Charlton sustaining a dislocated toe and unable to carry on, with the vocal, hard-working Henry Dorwood replacing him.
The injury was, nevertheless, a huge blow to the squad, especially considering they had been unable to field Layton Watts-Fife due to a leg injury picked up two weeks earlier.
Not letting up, Sefton time after time hit their tackles very hard, inflicting more damage throughout, with a determined Liam Barnes picking himself up and carrying on playing on adrenaline.
Sunderland began to use the ball more effectively and certainly had more possession and territorial dominance, but they struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities.
One period of pressure saw Sefton concede about 10 corners in five minutes, but Sunderland were unable to capitalise on the set pieces.
Sefton then launched another counter-attack, which saw a wicked deflection from Lewis Ware’s shot cruelly beat goalkeeper Keaton Marrs, who had been in good form, to put the visitors 2-0 up after 30 minutes.
Before the half-time whistle, medical assistance was needed again when James Thompson sustained a broken finger from yet another heavy challenge, but he bravely refused to come off and wanted to carry on.
At half-time, two more substitutions were needed. There was no denying that the young Wearsiders felt they could have played better, but they had clearly been shaken by the rate at which players were dropping.
Two goals down, there was nothing to lose and Sunderland Boys knew they had to get the next goal, to pull themselves back into the game.
A shuffle in midfield, with the introduction of Thomas Hunter and Ryan Leonard, some fresh legs in defence from Robbie Sinclair and the introduction of Jak Wright between the posts freshened up the hosts.
But again Sefton seemed intent on disrupting Sunderland’s passing game and the match became stretched, Sunderland having opportunities and Sefton forcing some fine saves from Wright.
Sefton sealed victory, Harry Hodson finding the back of the net for 3-0 following a corner, to deflate the bruised Sunderland side.
With just under 10 minutes remaining, Max Allen completed a heroic performance, having played in defence, midfield and attack, by pulling one back after some tidy work by Sameer Hussain on the right.
But it was too little too late as the Merseysiders made substitutions and ran the clock down to emerge victorious, having played a very physical game, albeit with some quality players in their side.
Sefton now host Liverpool in the semi-final, while North Kent tackle Bristol & North Gloucestershire.