Lee Connelly’s hat-trick sparked Sunderland to complete a deserved win over West Ham in today’s Under-18 Premier League Cup tie at the Academy of Light.
The livewire Scottish striker would have claimed even more goals but for some careless finishing.
Nevertheless, all his chances were self made, working himself into some great positions time after time, and the Hammers defence simply could not cope with or contain his attacking flair.
Sunderland keeper Anthony Patterson made some good saves, including a one-on-one before the Wearsiders opened the scoring five minutes before the break.
Full-back Kane Evans –making his first start at this level – crossed from the right for Connelly to leap higher than his marker, twist in mid air and power home a fine header.
But West Ham hit back to level when Patterson could only half parry Kordey Henry’s fierce shot.
Sunderland opened well in the second half, with both Robbie Dunne and Jordan Hickey going close.
The home side were now beginning to dominate and the West Ham defence finally cracked to concede two goals in three minutes from the ever dangerous Connelly.
The first came on 68 minutes when the striker got away down the left to cut in and beat West Ham keeper Rihards Matbevics at his near post.
Three minutes later, the frontman kept his cool to round the keeper and joyfully crash home into the unguarded net.
It now looked plain sailing for Sunderland, but, on 75 minutes, the Londoners came baclk again for sub Louis Watson to score after Patterson parried a shot.
This setback spurred on the home side to even greater efforts and Connelly saw a fine effort cleared off the line.
The same player then shot just past the post from another well-worked position with the goal unguarded.
If taken, the two chances would surely have made the game safe, but Sunderland still held firm despite having Jake Hackett sent off after a flare-up two minutes from time.
Sunderland coach Mark Atkinson said: “I was really pleased with how we played.
“Recently, we have only played well for periods in a match, but today it was a good consistent performance for the whole game.
“We had a young side with two players, Kane Evans and Tom Scothern, making their first starts at this level and, of course, Lee (Connelly) was outstanding.”
Sunderland: Patterson, Evans, Williams (McAughtrie 67), Scothern, Edmundsson, Young, Leonard (Kimpioka 75), Hickey, Dunne (Devine 86), Hackett, Connelly.