IF you’re Sunderland, and facing a side that wears black and white stripes and takes the pitch to the strains of Dire Strait’s Local Hero, you know a performance is expected of you.
Especially if you’re part of a team that is managed by Kevin Ball!
But last night Sunderland could hardly have left it much later to earn victory – a clever 88th minute strike by midfielder Alex Gorrin representing something of a smash and grab after a second-half pounding by the Moors.
And Ball will be delighted at the way his development squad was extended but came through against a muscular Northern League outfit who had former Sunderland Academy player Keith Graydon pulling the strings in midfield with a man-of-the-match display.
Graydon was one of three former Academy products in the opposition side – Kallum Griffiths and Lewis Dodds were also involved – who will be counting themselves desperately unlucky not to have capitalised on half-a-dozen golden opportunities for Moors to score in the game.
A youthful Sunderland squad included six youngsters who have been involved in the trip to South Korea – Louis Laing, Adam Reed, Billy Knott, Roarie Deacon and goalkeepers Jordan Pickford, Ben Wilson – and they performed creditably in the wake of their recent return from the long-distance trip.
Laing looked assured at the back but it was Pickford who caught the eye in a first-half display which featured two absolutely outstanding saves.
In the 17th minute he produced a stunning block to thwart a close-range volley on the turn from ex-Middlesbrough youth striker Anthony Peacock, the England Under-19 keeper somehow diverting the ball onto the base of his left-hand post and out for a corner.
And 10 minutes before the break he repeated his heroics with another point-blank save, this time to deny striker Glen Taylor.
Sunderland though had their chances in the opening 45 minutes.
Just before the half-hour mark, Gorrin went close, dragging a low shot across goal from right to left which beat Moors keeper Robert Dean but trickled just wide of the target.
A good move sparked by lively striker Jordan Laidler’s backheel in the 35th minute saw midfielder Amadou Diallo shoot wide from distance when he had better options on, but the young French trialist was understandably trying to impress.
And seconds after Pickford had made his 35th minute save, it was Sunderland midfielder’s Adam Mitchell’s turn to sting the gloves with a snapshot from well outside of the area which had Dean scrambling across his goal-line to block.
Sunderland made changes for a second-half in which their youth and fitness might have been expected to prove decisive.
But it was Spennymoor who took a strangle-hold on the game and the best chance before the hour-mark came when Graydon curled in a lovely cross from the left with the outside of his boot which the unmarked Taylor screwed wide from 10 yards with the goal at
Both sides made numerous changes as the game wore on but it was the Sunderland goal which remained in most danger and only a series of last-ditch blocks in the 65th minute, some more by luck than judgement, kept Sunderland on level terms.
Former Sunderland player Dodds had a great chance in the 70th minute from a ball over the top but lobbed his shot wide of the target when he seemed certain to score.
And with 10 minutes remaining, a sweet move from Spennymoor should have resulted in a winner but substitute Mark Davidson volleyed wide.
It looked as though Sunderland had done well to see a testing second period through to earn a draw.
But with virtually the last kick of the game, Sunderland stole the win – Gorrin holding on to the ball coolly 18 yards out and slightly left of goal, before digging out a disguised shot which flashed home through a crowded penalty area.
Spennymoor: Dean (sub Knight 57), Groves, Griffiths (sub Lawther 73), Dodds, Ryan, Laws, Ruddy (sub Davidson 57) Graydon, Taylor (sub Airey 57), Richardson (sub Rae 57), Peacock (sub Walton 39).
Sunderland: Pickford (sub Wilson 46), Oliver, Callaghan, Reed (sub Cartwright 60), Laing (sub Joyce 60), Ferguson, Mitchell (sub Holland 78), Gorrin, Laidler (sub Mandron 72), Knott (sub Lawson 60), Diallo (sub Deacon 46).
Referee: Mr P Thompson. Att: 510.