Sunderland missed the opportunity to cement their play-off place in the Barclays U18 Premier League’s Northern Division, going down 3-2 to Middlesbrough at the Academy of Light today.
With rivals Blackburn leapfrogging Sunderland thanks to a 2-0 win over Wolves, the young Black Cats need to pick up all three points when they travel to high-flying Liverpool on Tuesday.
Both Sunderland and Boro, who have a Uefa Youth League date at Paris Saint-Germain to look forward to in midweek, seemed cautious in the opening 10 minutes, with only a couple of half-chances for each side.
However Boro broke the deadlock in the 13th minute, when the ball was whipped in from the right wing and Jack Lambert headed home.
The goal galvanised the visitors, who pushed forward for a quick second a minute later, and Sunderland keeper Michael Woud was handed a straight red card for handling outside his area as he came to collect a lofted ball forward.
Striker Josh Maja was sacrificed for reserve keeper Cameron McCulloch, who duly saved the resulting free-kick.
However, the visitors did double their lead three minutes later, when Marcus Tavernier slipped past two Sunderland defenders to sidefoot the ball past McCulloch.
Sunderland showed good character in fighting back from their setbacks, and, following a series of chances, the Wearsiders pulled goal back in the 28th minute as Denver Hume’s cross found Dan Pybus, who fired past keeper Thomas Dawson.
Sunderland continued to pressure Boro’s defence, looking to pull level, but were caught out by a counter-attack, when Lambert cut inside from the right to curl his shot round keeper McCulloch to make it 3-1.
Two minutes before the break, Sunderland’s Brandon Taylor suffered in a clash of heads and was replaced by Oscar Krushnell as a precautionary measure.
The home side kept up their impressive workrate in the second half, with Andrew Nelson, Dan Casey and Elliot Embleton all going close.
The young Black Cats used the following wind to their advantage on the restart, attempting long, probing balls forward, and were rewarded in the 75th minute when Hume broke, collecting a long ball to jink past two Boro defenders to slot home.
Despite Sunderland’s continued pressure, Middlesbrough’s defence held firm to collect all three points.
Sunderland coach Elliott Dickman said: “I was very pleased with the way we battled back.
“Going down to 10 men was always going to be difficult. Our attitude was excellent – we played some good football, and, at the end, I thought we deserved a draw to say the least.”
Sunderland: Woud, Gamble, Hume, Wright, Casey (Allen 86), Taylor (Krushnell 37), Molyneux, Pybus, Nelson, Maja (McCulloch 14), Embleton. Subs not used: Yves Poame, Graham.
Middlesbrough: Dawson, Hegarty Coulson, Cook, McGoldrick, Renton, Reading, Tavernier, Currie, Heatherington, Lambert. Subs: Converg, Jones, Holdsworth, J Wilson, M Wilson