Delighted coach Elliott Dickman saluted Sunderland Under-23s – after they won 1-0 at Norwich City last night to progress into the Premier League International Cup final.
Joel Asoro’s 13th-minute strike proved enough for the Black Cats at Carrow Road – and they will now meet Porto in the final.
Keeper Max Stryjek was the hero at the other end of the pitch, making a superb penalty save to deny Glenn Middleton a 34th-minute leveller.
“The players have done smashing tonight because it was a real battle,” Dickman told safc.com.
“We showed a lot of the ugly side, which is something we have questioned the lads on over the years and definitely a lot this season.
“To be fair to the boys, they did themselves justice and really dug deep when it mattered the most to help get us through.
“It is a great achievement for Sunderland Football Club and the Academy.
“There are a lot of staff who have put a lot work in over the years and they all need a massive pat on the back.
“Ultimately, though, the players have done it and they are the ones who have worked hard, stuck to a game plan and given everything they have got.”
Sunderland fielded a strong side, including first-team squad men Donald Love, Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman, though Norwich fielded ex-West Brom powerhouse Youssout Mulumbu and winger Matt Jarvis.
Stryjek – who luckily survived a handball offence outside his box in the opening stages – had to fend off a fierce Middleton free-kick before the Wearsiders went ahead on 13 minutes when Asoro finished clinically past keeper Aston Oxborough after getting behind the home defence.
Norwich were awarded a penalty when Sunderland were adjudged to have been pulling shirts in defending a Jarvis free-kick into the box, but Stryjek dived to his left to keep out Middleton’s spot-kick.
Lynden Gooch hit the top of the bar as Sunderland sought a second goal, then Oxborough produced two outstanding saves to defy Asoro.
Gooch then passed up an excellent chance to kill off the Canaries, hesitation proving costly as he fired wide.
Norwich staged a late siege on the visitors’ goal, but the white-shirted visitors held on for a morale-boosting victory, setting up an intriguing final date with Porto.
Norwich City U23s: Oxborough, Ramsay, Godfrey, Efete, Dijks, Grant (Jaiyesimi 75), Mulumbu (McGrandles 60), Adams, Jarvis, Ashley-Seal, Middleton. Subs: Hallett, Aransibia, Crowe, Aarons, Odusina
Sunderland: Stryjek, Love, Hume, Embleton, Brady, Beadling, Honeyman, E Robson (Molyneux 50), Asoro (J Robson 67), Gooch (Maja 88), Greenwood. Subs: Talbot, Casey, Wright, Poame