SUNDERLAND’S young guns couldn’t have wished for a loftier audience of club officials for their campaign’s curtain-raiser.
Ellis Short, Gus Poyet and Lee Congerton were all in the stands at Eppleton CW last night after the trio must surely have exchanged a word or two about the remainder of the transfer window earlier in the day.
But there was a sting in the tail for Sunderland’s rookies in their hopes of catching the eye.
A last-gasp winner from Liverpool inflicted defeat on the hosts at the conclusion of an end-to-end second half, which had followed a tiresome opening 45 minutes.
“I’m bitterly disappointed really,” said Under-21 coach Robbie Stockdale.
“It’s a cruel way to lose the game in which we offered so much in terms of desire and effort.
“We probably could have played better if I’m honest, but the boys are devastated and that’s quite nice to see. It means so much to them.
“I thought the second half was a real end-to-end game, but they took their chance and we didn’t.”
Cabral was the biggest name in the Sunderland side, with the midfielder looking to attract potential employers after being told he is not part of Poyet’s plans.
The former Basel man produced a couple of decent passes, yet as with previous performances, there was no hint of drive surrounding the 25-year-old.
Neither side were able to make any inroads during the opening half-hour - the closest to a meaningful effort on goal coming when Duncan Watmore skied a right-footed effort not so handsomely over the top from a Liam Agnew corner.
Sunderland finally burst into life in the 37th minute when they produced a slick passing move that resulted in Carl Lawson freeing Andrew Cartwright down the right-hand side of the area.
Cartwright lifted the ball to the far post for Watmore, who sent his stabbed half-volley back across goal and wide.
Mikael Mandron went close in the 52nd minute when Cabral played him in down the right-hand side of the area and the striker fired in a low shot which Liverpool keeper Dan Ward turned behind at the near post.
Moments later, Liverpool striker Chris Peterson caught the Sunderland defence out, raced through on goal but saw his shot blocked well by the outstretched leg of Black Cats stopper Max Stryjek.
Watmore enjoyed Sunderland’s best chance of the match in the 73rd minute when Cabral’s through-ball beat the Liverpool offside trap.
It left Watmore with just Ward to beat, but while his delicate chip left the keeper stranded, it drifted agonisingly wide of the far post.
With eight minutes to go, Stryjek produced an excellent full-length save to keep out a long-range effort from Liverpool winger Ryan McLaughlan, who had unleashed an angled drive from the left-hand side of the area.
Peterson should have secured maximum points as the clock ticked down, but sent his left-footed shot well wide when he had time to pick his spot.
But Liverpool did grab a winner in the last minute when McLaughlan pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the area and managed to get a right-footed shot away which nestled in the bottom corner.
Stockdale added: “We missed a really top, top chance.
“Duncan has got through - he was a threat all night again - and I think he got caught between two minds and ended up doing neither.
“Always, if you’re really unsure about doing something, you maybe just stick your foot through it.
“But Duncan offers us so much we’re not going to criticise him too much.”
SUNDERLAND: Stryjek, Cartwright, Ferguson, Cabral, McNamee, Harrison, Watmore, Agnew, Mandron, Smith (Gooch 65), Lawson. Subs not used: T Robson, Purvis, Ledger, E Robson. Booked: Agnew (83)
LIVERPOOL: Ward, Randall (Wilson 62), Stewart, Williams, Jones, Rossiter, McLaughlin, Lussey, Peterson, Brannagan (Yesil 71), Ojo (Maguire 80). Subs not used: Vigouroux, Trickett-Smith. Booked: Stewart (60)