Sunderland enjoy 1-0 victory over Hartlepool United in much-derided Checkatrade Trophy

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Fans are unlikely to be rushing for their sat-navs today to begin programming ‘Wembley’ into their devices.

Look what happened the last time a Sunderland figure went there ... but that’s another story.

Seriously, that the Black Cats have moved a step closer towards the national stadium in the Checkatrade Trophy will probably not even register a flicker of interest among folk on Wearside.

The competition, founded so the clubs of the third and fourth tiers of English football can have a day out at Wembley, is derided by the majority of fans – even those whose clubs contest it.

Sunderland who, whisper it, were humbled by Hartlepool United the only previous time they were in it, are now one of the elite clubs who enter their U23 team.

To some critics, that makes the tournament even more Mickey Mouse, but the Cats should not have a bad word to say about it, especially after Donald Love’s precise 63rd-minute goal brought them a derby victory at their League Two hosts.

For the second game running in the catchily-titled Checkatrade Trophy, the Black Cats have been able to provide vital game-time to senior figures.

At Rochdale last month, it was Jan Kirchhoff having a run-out after returning from injury and season-long loan signing Jason Denayer getting a first taste of wearing a red and white strip.

Last night at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium – or Victoria Park in ‘old money’ – it was Billy Jones striding back to fitness after hip trouble and Mika the keeper, signed last month from Boavista, taking to the field as the over-age players.

Where else would Sunderland have been able to get 90 minutes for two men who will be key members of the squad as the season goes on?

Ditto for Love.

With Sunderland’s midfield pool of talent reduced by the injuries to Kirchhoff , who faces somewhere in the region of two months out with a hamstring problem, and Lee Cattermole, sidelined by back trouble, it was an opportunity to view Love in midfield.

Positioned in the middle of young talents George Honeyman and Rees Greenwood, Love was positive and polished and had a bit of physicality about him.

That’s not a bad thing, is it? Especially when viewed by the way Sunderland conceded their goal against West Brom on Saturday.

This reporter is not saying ‘play Love there at Stoke a week on Saturday’, I am merely pointing out he is an option and his defensive leaning in a must-not-lose match would be strength David Moyes could do with.

He also took his goal last night very well indeed.

But the Group F win was more than just getting first team squad men on the park.

It was about Sunderland’s gifted youngsters getting, as coach Robbie Stockdale described a “proper game”.

Moyes got to watch the players in action in a meaningful match against a side who had been unbeaten in five games rather than in the tippy-tappy polite surroundings of a development fixture.

There were certainly more positives than negatives, even if the tie took a while to get going.

Sunderland had the better of the first half, Honeyman drawing a good diving eighth-minute save from Adam Bartlett, who had his gloves warmed by a rasping Jones drive and collected a shot from Ethan Robson from the edge of the box.

Josh Maja was thwarted by another good Bartlett save six minutes from half-time and the striker thought he had put his team ahead when he converted from a Honeyman cross after a slick move, only for an offside flag to cut short the celebrations.

Pools, who had made eight changes from the side which had won 3-0 at Grimsby in League Two on Saturday, were not helped by injuries, losing two players in the first 25 minutes.

One of their subs, Brad Walker, had their two first-half efforts, shooting over the bar from outside of the box and then getting the opening save from Mika who caught with ease the midfielder’s accurate, if tame, left-footer following a good counter-attack.

The second half was much more pleasing on the eye. Sunderland were unlucky again three minutes after the re-start, Maja caught offside at the far post after putting in Tommy Robson’s excellent low cross from the left.

Pools should have taken the lead in the 52nd minute when Sunderland fan Jordan Richards played a great delivery from the right across the six-yard box where Newcastle United loan striker shinned his attempt high into Morrison’s carpark. It was some miss.

Heardman was at it again with another miss five minutes later.

This time, it came from the left-back, James Martin, another Wearsider, who placed a great cross onto his head but the lanky Geordie nodded wide.

He was soon made to pay.

Maja contrived to miss a great chance of his own at the other end when he prodded a good Greenwood cross wide and was then denied by a superbly-executed tackle by ex-Cats youngster Scott Harrison.

But Maja kept his head up and when he teed up Love in the 64th minute, the ex-Man United player sidefooted home from 12 yards into Bartlett’s right corner.

To confirm it was not Maja’s night, he saw Bartlett save with his right boot when it looked easier for the 17-year-old to score.

But the Londoner looks a bright spark, so while he did not find the net, the fact he was involved in much of the best work in the box is promising for the Cats.

The ‘miss’ did not matter, Sunderland held on with relative comfort to move up into second place in the group.

Wembley is now a little step closer and even if you don’t like the Checkatrade Trophy, don’t label it Mickey Mouse!