Luke Molyneux hit a well-taken double to boost Sunderland Under-23s’ Premier League 2 survival bid.
His brace clinched a welcome 2-1 victory over Everton at the Stadium of Light yesterday. The three points were not enough to lift Elliott Dickman’s side up the table.
But the second-bottom Black Cats are now just a point from safety, with three games to go.
Sunderland, who lost on penalties to Newcastle in the Premier League International Cup in midweek, made five changes, with keeper James Talbot, Alex Storey, Jacob Young, Owen Gamble and Lee Connelly brought in.
Everton started brightly and Talbot was forced into an early save to deny Antony Evans, before David Henen fired over the bar.
The Wearsiders, though, rallied and went ahead just before the half hour. Molyneux was fed on the right and got the better of defender Michael Collins before curling an excellent shot into the top corner of the Everton net, leaving keeper Mateusz Hewelt helpless.
Sixteen-year-old Bali Mumba, a half-time sub, kept Sunderland on the front foot and was involved in the second goal.
He played in Owen Gamble, who played it on to Molyneux, who nipped past two defenders and curled home another impressive strike.
Everton finishred strongly and pulled one goal back late on, when Henen fired home in the 81st minute, beating Talbot at his near post, but Dickman’s lads stayed strong to see out the precious win.
Next up in PL2 is a crucial trip to bottom club Manchester United, who are four points behind Sunderland but have a game in hand. The bottom two will go down to Division Two next season.
Tottenham are third-bottom on 20 points, one above Sunderland, with Derby on 21, but with a game in hand.
Sunderland U23s: Talbot, Robson (Mumba 45), Hume, Embleton, Storey, Young, Molyneux, Gamble (Brotherton 86), Shields, Connelly, Kimpioka (Diamond 62) Subs: Patterson, Kokolo
Everton U23s: Hewelt, Markelo (Bramall 59), Collins (Lavery 59), Denny, Astley, Gibson, Evans, Hornby, Sambou, Henen, Bowler (Mapala 78) Subs: Hilton, Ouzounidis