DANNY Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell both edged closer to fitness thanks to run-outs in yesterday’s fiercely competitive Premier Reserve League game.
Played behind closed doors at the Academy of Light, the match was watched by Sunderland manager Steve Bruce and assistant boss Eric Black and both would have been delighted with the work the two strikers got through.
Welbeck – a second-half substitute against Arsenal on Saturday – played the whole first half, while Campbell got half-an-hour in the second period.
And having both come through unscathed, they will now be free to step up their bids to be involved against either Liverpool later this month or Manchester City on April 3.
Welbeck, the fitter of the two frontmen, having been out for only nine weeks, compared to Campbell’s five months, started alongside young striker Ryan Noble and produced the best early chance of a game which offered little in the way of goal-mouth action in the first 30 minutes.
Welbeck’s fine shot just before the quarter-hour was parried by West Ham keeper Jake Larkins and the referee ignored calls for a penalty in the scramble that followed.
Noble got in on the act just after the half-hour when his shot was deflected out for a corner and, from the resulting ball into the box from the right, Sunderland centre-half John Egan couldn’t sidefoot his shot on target.
Little had been seen of West Ham as an attacking force, but, perhaps predictably, they scored, eight minutes before the break, with what was their first really dangerous move.
There was good fortune in the build-up as the Hammers pursued a ball down the left-hand channel, a foul and a handball being overlooked, before Sunderland failed to deal with defender Callum Driver in the box and he weaved himself space before driving a low, right-foot shot into the bottom right-hand corner of Ben Wilson’s goal.
Sunderland might have levelled either side of the break, but Larkins was equal to Nathan Wilson’s long-range drive at the end of the first half and was relieved at the start of the second to see Jack Colback go clean through on goal but drive a shot wide from 10 yards.
Billy Knott and Campbell came on just after the hour and Sunderland prospered with the latter being played through on goal in one move but not quite getting his shot off before he was brought to a halt in the box.
Sunderland got their equaliser, though, from the resulting 73rd-minute corner – Knott swinging it over from the left and Egan bursting through the box unmarked to head the ball back across the keeper from eight yards.
It signalled a high-tempo end to the game, with both teams fighting hard against the blustery conditions and each other to find a winner.
Egan, having equalised at one end, produced a crucial block for Sunderland at the other, seconds before the home team counter-attacked and Noble’s shirt was pulled back just enough to put him off as he surged towards the Hammers’ penalty area.
The visitors had a great call for a penalty ignored after Egan brought down big striker Frank Nouble in time added on, but a draw was a fair result for a well-contested game.
It means Keith Bertschin’s improving young reserves have now won five and drawn one of their last six games.
But, more importantly, it strengthens Steve Bruce’s hand as he looks to mastermind a strong end to the season for a side which has not given up hope of qualifying for Europe.
SUNDERLAND RES: B Wilson, Bagnall, Laing, Egan, Adams, Lynch, N Wilson (Knott 58), Colback, Luscombe (Campbell 58), Noble, Welbeck (Fletcher 46). Subs not used: Watson, King..
WEST HAM RES: Larkins, Modelski, McNaughton, Eylofsson, Driver, Edgar, Lee, Abdulla, Montano, Nouble, Moncur (Lletget 69). Subs not used: Wooton, McCallum, Vose, Craig.
Referee: Darren England.