Sunderland Primary Schools Boys missed out on silverware for the first time in several years.
A defeat to Darlington ended the city lads’ hopes in the Derwent and Medomsley Cup at the semi-final stage.
And their dreams of a Harrison Cup triumph ended on the final day of the league campaign in a must-win showdown against Newcastle.
Nevertheless, manager Chris Lindstedt and assistants Marty Richards and Steve Martin saluted the players’ efforts.
Lindstedt said: “Marty Richards, Steve Martin and myself have been incredibly proud of this squad of boys this season.
“They have been a credit to themselves, their families, their schools and our Association.
“Every boy has worn the shirt with pride, worked their socks off and squeezed every last second out of their season as Sunderland Boys and it has been a pleasure to coach them this season.
“I would also like to thank all of the parents and grandparents for their support. It really has been a team effort.”
After the first stage of the Harrison Cup, the boys comfortably finished in the top half of the table to qualify for the opportunity to win the trophy in the play-offs.
The squad made the best possible start with a thrilling 3-2 win over North Tyneside, courtesy of two Kymani Severin goals and a Lewis Sayers strike.
Next up, Sunderland turned their attention to Wallsend in the Derwent and Medomsley Cup quarter-finals.
Sunderland’s bright start brought several chances and they thought they had taken the lead, when Sayers fired home, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside on the insistence of the home linesman.
The boys, already missing Harry Clay, were dealt a further blow when striker Fletcher Ramsay had to go off with what turned out to be a broken wrist, leaving Sayers as the only recognised forward in the squad.
Sunderland fell behind against the run of play when a Wallsend player was allowed to dance through two or three half-hearted tackles before squaring the ball to a team-mate who fired past keeper Ben Mulvaney.
The Wearsiders responded well, with Callum Pemberton crashing a shot off the bar and Severin hitting the outside of the post, after being released by Sayers.
Despite a strong start to the second half, Sunderland fell 2-0 behind from a set-piece, when a Wallsend player was left unmarked to head home.
Despite the setback, Sunderland showed excellent character to mount a comeback which gathered momentum when Sayers found Severin on the edge of the area and he shot across the keeper and into the far corner to reduce the arrears.
The boys pressed and pressed for an equaliser and, in the final minute, Sayers drove from midfield before unleashing a shot which squirmed under the keeper and winger Shae Bungoni followed up to force the ball home from close range.
That made it 2-2 and send the game into extra time.
Sunderland now had the momentum and they grabbed the winning goal when Pemberton released Sayers, who shot home from outside the box to spark wild celebrations and secure a semi-final trip to Darlington.
In a dress rehearsal for the cup tie, Sunderland entertained Darlington at Nissan in the Harrison Cup play-offs.
The visitors took a first-half lead when their centre-forward outpaced defenders Daniel Atkinson and James Sloan before poking the ball past Mulvaney.
Missing the physical presence of Ramsay up front, Sunderland never really threatened an equaliser, and they needed Mulvaney to keep them in the game with a string of fine saves.
Sunderland worked up a head of steam in the final five minutes, but it proved too little too late as the most disappointing performance of the season ended in a 10 defeat.
Sunderland, though, got back to winning ways in the Harrison Cup, beating a Redcar and Cleveland side packed with Middlesbrough academy players 3-1 away from home.
The Wearsiders had to show character again after falling behind when a Redcar free-kick meant for the six-yard box sailed straight over Mulvaney’s head and into the net.
In response, Sayers shot against the bar from distance, but Redcar increased their lead with a screamer which flew into the top corner from outside of the box.
That left Sunderland with a mountain to climb, but, for the second time in three games, the squad dug deep and produced an outstanding, battling performance.
Clay started the comeback when he took a through ball from Sayers in his stride before crashing it across the keeper from the edge of the box.
Before Redcar could regroup, it was 2-2. Pemberton freed Sayers and he beat the keeper to the ball to poke it past him and into the empty net.
The comeback was complete five minutes later when a free-kick from distance from centre-half Atkinson was headed past his own keeper by a luckless Redcar defender, putting Sunderland 3-2 up.
Sayers should have increased the visitors’ lead when he crashed an effort off the bar for the second time in the match, with Redcar struggling to clear following a scramble.
The visitors worked tirelessly to protect their lead in the closing stages, with Oliver Dixon, in midfield, producing a number of excellent tackles to help the boys over the line.
An excellent 3-2 victory, making it two wins from three Harrison Cup games, kept them in with a chance of lifting the league title.
Sunderland came back to earth in their next match, though, going down 2-0 at Darlington in the Derwent and Medomsley Cup semi-final.
In an excellent opening, the boys swarmed all over Darlington, creating a number of chances.
Tellingly though, a failure to convert any of them came back to haunt the squad when Darlington took the lead from the penalty spot after player of the season Sloan was adjudged to have tripped a forward in the area.
The second half saw Sunderland push hard for an equaliser, while Darlington looked to play on the break.
The match was decided in the cruellest of fashions when Bungoni was harshly adjudged to have handled the ball in the area and Darlington’s second penalty of the game was despatched to secure a 2-0 win for the home side.
That defeat left the boys with a crucial final Harrison Cup league game at Castletown against Newcastle, who boasted a 100% record after three games.
Sunderland knew that a victory would leave both teams and Darlington tied at the top of the table with nine points.
But Wearside hopes were dashed as the Tyneside visitors claimed a 3-1 success to take the title.
Sunderland were indebted to keeper Mulvaney, who produced a series of top-class saves to give the boys a platform to build from.
They duly caused Newcastle’s defence a number of problems.
After 15 minutes, Atkinson coolly played the ball out of defence to Pemberton, who released Clay down the right edge of the box.
Clay fired in a fierce shot, which the keeper could only parry to Sayers, who fired home from close range to give the hosts a deserved lead.
Despite Sunderland being on top, the visitors equalised when a shot from outside the box went under Mulvaney for the only mistake he would make all game.
Sunderland should have regained the lead when David Hodgson’s corner found the head of the excellent Pemberton, but he bulleted a free header past the post.
Sunderland started the second half on top and had two great chances in as many minutes. First, Jack Forth released Clay with a ball over the defence, but, instead of lifting the ball over the advancing keeper into the empty net, he opted for an extra touch and was forced wide, with the chance going begging.
In the next minute, Ramsay released Sayers who, in a one-on-one with the keeper, poked the ball past him only to see it roll agonisingly past the post.
Newcastle took advantage of the misses when they went 2-1 up shortly after, when a midfielder rose highest to head home a corner.
The match was effectively settled shortly after.
A cross to the back of the Sunderland area caught out Severin and an opponent got in behind to head the ball back across goal and over Mulvaney’s head to clinch a 3-1 victory which secured the title for the visitors and ensured a disappointing finale for the Sunderland lads.
The new squad for 2018-19 has already been selected.
The successful boys are: Finley Robertson (Hill View), Oliver Worthington (Grindon Hall), Nathan Snowball (Plains Farm), Jude Cogdon (St John Bosco), Ryly Deehan (Academy 360), Aidan Meagan (Castletown), Matthew Taylor (St Anne’s), Lucas Taylor (St Mary’s), Rory Nelson (St Mary’s), Jesse Nelson (Bexhill), Evan Clark (Broadway), Bailey Corner (Hylton Castle).