Chris Rigg starts and Jack Clarke clone impresses in front of Mike Dodds as Sunderland beat Middlesbrough in FA Youth Cup

Sunderland vs Middlesbrough in the FA Youth Cup: Jack Clarke clone impresses once again at Stadium of Light.
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Chris Rigg and Tom Watson started for Sunderland as the Black Cats defeated their Middlesbrough counterparts in the FA Youth Cup on Thursday night at the Stadium of Light.

An own goal in the first half alongside efforts from Josh Robertson and Luke Bell gave Sunderland a 3-0 lead at the interval, before goals from Middlesbrough's Finlay Cartwright and Charlie Lennon gave the visitors hope in the second half. Watson added a fourth for the Black Cats with a penalty at the death. 15-year-old substitute Fin Gergausian then wrapped things up for the hosts, adding a fifth before full-time.

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Sunderland caretaker manager Mike Dodds was in attendance, as was Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick and his assistants Jonathan Woodgate and Grant Leadbitter as Boro succumbed to a dominant display.

Rigg and Watson, who have both featured in league games for Sunderland’s first team this year, started for the hosts alongside highly-rated attacker Trey Ogunsuyi. Matty Young, who played for Sunderland’s senior team during pre-season, got the nod in goal.

And it was Ogunsuyi who had the first real chance of the game after Watson’s break down the left resulted in Josh Robertson crossing the ball in. Ogunsuyi, though, could only sting the palms of Shea Connor. Sunderland broke the deadlock in the 15th minute after the lively Watson glided down the left to the byline and saw his cross deflected somewhat fortuitously into Middlesbrough’s net.

Watson, who signed a new contract at Sunderland this summer amid interest from Rangers, bears a striking resemblance in terms of playing style to first team star Jack Clarke. The England under-17 and under-18 international possess bags of ability and would have extended Sunderland’s lead further had it not been for a tremendous goalline clearance from Alfie Myers-Smith.

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Watson had several chances thereafter as well, and probably should have scored one but ended up stinging the palms of Connor twice. In truth, the young star looked a class above on the ball compared to Jack Patterson, the right-back tasked with keeping the flying winger quiet. Praise must also go to Sunderland’s number 10 on the night Robertson, who was instrumental in pulling the strings and feeding Watson the ball so often. 

Sunderland’s quality once again showed with 32 minutes on the clock as the young Black Cats doubled their lead following Robertson’s superb free-kick, which delightfully found the head of captain Luke Bell. Seven minutes later, Sunderland added a third with Watson turning provider for the increasingly influential Robertson to tap home in front of a delighted crowd at the Stadium of Light.

Middlesbrough changed personnel at half-time with James Wilson and Daniel James brought on in an attempt to wrestle some control back from Sunderland, who emerged for the second stanza unchanged. Rio Patterson Powell tried to get Boro moving after the break but his crosses failed to find their mark.

In contrast, though, on the opposite wing, Watson was at the heart of Sunderland's attacking display once more and arguably should have done better with a chance in the 57th minute as the attacker fired a side-footed volley over the bar from close range, then once again testing Connor eight minutes later with a strong shot which was well saved. Jenson Jones was replaced by Jayden Sekete shortly after.

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In the 69th minute, however, Middlesbrough showed signs of life with Finlay Cartwright smashing home past Sunderland goalkeeper Young to give the visitors some hope. Frankie Coulson was then replaced by Will McPartland as the visitors looked to continue their spirited fight back. Charlie Lennon broke down the left to slot home and reduce the deficit to just one goal heading into the final 15 minutes.

With eight left on the clock, Jayden Jones did well to dispossess Oliver Samuels at the last as the Middlesbrough man was shaping up to shoot. Rigg, dropping increasingly deeper to get the Black Cats moving, broke forward but couldn't find a teammate during the resulting counter-attack. Creamer then saw a good effort saved by Connor.

In the final throws, Sunderland replaced Josh Robertson with Cuba Mitchell as Ogunsuyi was taken off for 15-year-old Geragusian with the hosts looking to take the sting out of the game. With normal time ticking down, Sunderland were awarded a penalty, which was duly dispatched by Watson before substitute Geragusian added a fifth in injury time - a great moment for the youngster playing above his age group as his team ran out 5-2 winners on the night.

It was undoubtedly a good evening for Watson, who was by far and away Sunderland's best performer on the night, scoring two goals in the process. The attacker was bright all night and full of skilful dribbling and running. He looked a cut above under-18 level and the comparisons to Clarke are hard not to make, even at his young age. Rigg had a quiet game by his usual standards but showed a couple of high-quality moments in the middle to deny Middlesbrough on the break.

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Overall, it was a pleasing evening for Sunderland's under-18 side, and proof that there is some serious talent rising through the ranks at the Academy of Light. The conveyor belt of bright youngsters shows no signs of slowing down as the Black Cats now prepare for the fourth round.

Sunderland's starting XI: Ben Young, Tom Lavery, Finlay Holcroft, Luke Bell, Jaydon Jones, Jenson Jones (Jayden Sekete, '67), Chris Rigg, Josh Robertson (Cuba Mitchell, '89), Tom Watson, Ben Creamer, Trey Ogunsuyi (Fin Geragusian, '89).

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