Sunderland Under-23s had to settle for second place in group A of the Premier League Cup following a 3-1 defeat to Stoke Under-23s at Eppleton CW, Hetton.
First-half goals from Jake Dunwoody and Gabriel Kyeremateng put the visitors in control at the break, before Benji Kimpioka pulled one back for Sunderland 18 minutes from time.
But after midfielder Lee Connelly received a straight red card following a melee near the centre circle, Thibaud Verlinen put the game beyond doubt for the visitors late on.
After winning four of their previous five group games, Elliott Dickman’s side only needed a draw to avoid being leapfrogged by the Potters.
Yet Sunderland struggled to create chances throughout the evening, with Stoke running out worthy winners.
The young Black Cats booked their place in the knockout stages with a resounding 6-2 win over Peterborough earlier this month, yet Dickman still named a strong side against the Potters.
Sunderland made just three changes following their last Premier League 2 game, a 3-1 defeat at West Brom, with goalkeeper Max Stryjek, Jack Bainbridge and Ruben Sammut, a trialist who came through Chelsea’s academy, coming in.
Sammut, 21, started in midfield alongside Daniel Neil as the hosts lined-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Bali Mumba playing just behind Benji Kimpioka up top.
Yet Sunderland’s attackers spent most of their time chasing the ball in the early exchanges, with the visitors dominating possession from the off.
Neither goalkeeper was called into action during the opening 15 minutes, however it took just one opportunity for Stoke to take the lead.
The visitors’ opener came when Tre Pemberton was picked out in the right channel by defender Cameron McJannet, before cutting the ball back to Dunwoody.
From there, the midfielder had space on the edge of the penalty area and his curling shot into the far bottom corner was still an impressive strike.
Sunderland responded well but almost fell further behind when an in-swinging corner was diverted toward goal by Dunwoody, before being scrambled away.
The young Black Cats weren’t content to sit back, though, as Mumba and Kimpioka tried to apply pressure on Stoke's backline.
However, the visitors doubled their lead in the 35th minute when Verlinen's cross was stabbed home by Kyeremateng in mid-flight.
Sunderland made a change at the break as Brandon Taylor replaced Kane Evans in defence, with Jacob Young moving across to left-back.
Even so, it took a good 20 minutes for the second half to splutter into life, with both sides struggling to create chances.
Stoke keeper Nathan Broome was finally called upon in the 67th minute, when he was forced to tip Jack Diamond’s powerful free-kick over the crossbar.
Sunderland pulled one back five minutes later, after Diamond was fouled on the edge of the penalty area and Kimpioka curled the subsequent free-kick into the top corner.
The hosts were reduced to 10 men in the 79th minute when McJannet and Connelly came together near the centre circle.
Following a melee between both sets of players, the Sunderland midfielder was shown a straight red card while McJannet only saw yellow.
Verlinen should have put the game beyond doubt five minutes from time when he failed to hit the target from close range.
Even so, the result was put beyond doubt when Verlinen cut in from the right and fired a shot past Stryjek, the forward’s effort squirming under the Sunderland keeper.
Sunderland U23s: Stryjek, Hunter, Young, Bainbridge (C), Evans (Taylor, 45), Sammut, Mumba (Kokolo, 63), Connelly, Diamond, Neil, Kimpoika.
Subs not used: Storey, Johnstone, Connolly.
Stoke U23s: Broome, Wara, Niakate, Sorensen, Collins, McJannet, Pemberton, Dunwoody (C), Kyeremateng (Varian, 74), Jarvis, Verlinen.
Subs not used: Forrester, Gyollai, Twyford, Macari.
Goals: Dunwoody, 15, Kyremateng, 35, Kimpioka, 72
Bookings: Taylor, 64, McJannett, 80
Red card: Connelly, 80
Referee: Mr Scott Taylor