Sunderland Primary Schools Boys are on track to retain their Harrison Cup league championship.
The young Wearsiders topped their original group to join Stockton, Darlington, North Tyneside and Redcar and Cleveland in a final round robin stage to decide the title.
They kicked off the play-off campaign in style, beating Stockton – with the game a lot tougher than the 11-0 away success for Sunderland earlier in the season.
Stockton started the stronger, and it came as no surprise when they took a 10th-minute lead, with a shot from the edge of the area beating keeper Ethan Baillie.
That stung the Wearsiders into action and busy midfielder Oliver Thompson came close to equalising, heading a Mason Tarrant corner just over the bar.
Sunderland, though, levelled when the Stockton keeper could only parry a shot and Josh Martin was quickest to react to crash the ball home from close range.
Ellis Stanton crashed a right-footed free-kick into the wall as Sunderland chased a second, but he showed great alertness to fire a left-footed shot into the bottom corner from the rebound to give the boys a 2-1 half time lead.
The second half would prove to be a tense affairs. Jake Hutchinson should have increased the lead when a terrific cross from Daniel Collins saw him head over from close range with only the keeper to beat.
Hutchinson then stung the fingers of the keeper when he turned a fierce shot around the post for a corner and Bryan Taylor should also have scored when he cleverly rounded the keeper but could not force the ball home from an acute angle.
Despite a late burst of Stockton pressure, Sunderland held out to secure three very important points.Earlier, Sunderland defeated Newcastle 3-1 in their final group game at a bitterly cold Academy of Light to top their section with four wins out of four.
Against Newcastle, Sunderland were on top from the first whistle however poor finishing and bad decision-making prevented a breakthrough being made until the 20th minute when a through ball from Logan Herron was diverted into the path of Jake Hutchinson, who made no mistake in beating the keeper from just inside the area.
Despite creating numerous chances, Sunderland found the visiting keeper in inspired form and he almost single-handedly repelled attack after attack to keep his side in the game.
Newcastle equalised shortly before half time when Eden Page was robbed on halfway and a through ball dissected the home defence to leave the Newcastle forward to finish clinically past exposed keeper Baillie.
The second half saw the home side take far more care of the ball, leading to a host of chances which were all saved, before the keeper was left with no chance when a 25-yard shot from Herron screamed into the top corner to restore the hosts’ lead.
Sunderland secured victory when Hutchinson gathered the ball on halfway and dribbled past three or four Newcastle players before calmly slotting home for 3-1.
Sunderland also secured a 3-2 friendly win over Leeds at the Russell Foster Centre in Newbottle.
Josh Martin fired home from close range after good work from the impressive Daniel Collins and Jake Hutchinson, and it was 2-0 when Ellis Stanton stroked his free-kick over the wall and in off the far post.
Leeds pulled one back, but Sunderland went 3-1 up when Mason Tarrant’s shot found its way to Bryan Taylor and he fired home confidently across the keeper.
Leeds grabbed a second after retrieving a lost cause, but Sunderland held on for a hard-earned win.