SUNDERLAND made a successful start to their defence of the Totesport Cup last night, but needed their London boys to finally capitalise on what had been almost complete domination.
Former Chelsea trainee Billy Knott produced a real piece of class on the left wing in the 75th minute to get to the goal-line before cutting inside and pulling the ball back for ex-Arsenal youth man Roarie Deacon to fire home from seven yards.
It was enough to decide the outcome of the Black Cats’ first sectional tie in the competition.
Up until that point, it was beginning to look like a night of frustration for Keith Bertschin’s men as time and again they went close but were undone by wayward finishing and stubborn defending – in particular from young keeper Jak Alnwick, brother of former Sunderland keeper, Ben.
Only 330 supporters turned up at Eppleton CW and their dedication was not rewarded early on, with neither keeper being tested in the opening dozen minutes.
Midfielder David Meyler, playing his first game in eight months, successfully managed 45 minutes, getting around the pitch well, managing a shot on target and narrowly escaping a booking.
But the captain was unable to inspire a breakthrough, with striker Oumare Tounkara Sunderland’s chief culprit when it came to squandering openings.
In the space of three minutes midway through the first half, he managed to put a close-range shot into the side netting, then struck the post in a one-on-one with the keeper before firing over the bar from 20 yards as he leaned back on his shot.
With Bertschin’s men looking confident in all departments, they dominated but simply couldn’t find the finishing to trouble Aln-wick – though summer signing Jamie McClean almost sent them into the break on a high with an eye-catching shot in the 45th minute, after good work from Louis Laing, only to find the keeper equal to the effort.
In the second half, Sunderland stepped it up a level and Alnwick was even busier – three times denying the hosts when they were favourites to score.
In the 53rd minute, Tounkara’s close-range downward header looked a goal all the way, but the keeper somehow scrambled it away before the striker lashed the loose ball over the bar.
On the hour, a good run and shot from McClean was superbly saved before Alnwick denied Craig Lynch a few minutes later, bravely diving at the Sunderland man’s feet after a brilliant turn in the area had put him through on goal.
It looked as though Sunderland’s luck would be out after Deacon saw a goal chalked off for offside.
But then came the London link-up and the goal. Though Gateshead pushed for a hopeful equaliser in the last 10 minutes, Sunderland handled it confidently enough and keeper Jordan Pickford looked assured.
SUNDERLAND RES: Pickford, Marrs, Bagnall, Laing, Watson, McClean, Meyler (sub Knott 46), Armstrong, Deacon, Lynch (sub Mitchell 80), Tounkara (sub Reed 62). Subs not used: King, Egan.
GATESHEAD RES: Alnwick, Baxtor, Moyes, Lay (sub Gilbert 77), Rents, Brittain, Briggs, Nix (sub Eloung 58), Danquah (sub Berj 62), Mulligan, Fisher. Sub not used: Marshall.
Referee: Paul Curry. Att: 330.