Sunderland Under-21s beat Grimsby Town on penalties in Checkatrade Trophy - in front of just 248 fans

Elliott Dickman.
Elliott Dickman.
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If ever a game summed up the Checkatrade Trade trophy it was this.

A crowd of just 248 (including seven Sunderland fans) braved the sub-zero temperatures to watch the wooden spoon Northern Group H match at Blundell Park.

Aside from trying to avoid finishing bottom of the group, there was little else other than pride at stake against fourth tier Grimsby with both teams already out.

The game finished 1-1 which meant Sunderland finished bottom of the group. Sunderland won the shoot-out 7-6 but it mattered little.

Understandably the game hadn't caught the imagination of either fanbase, home fans - unhappy with Under-21 sides taking part in the competition - had opted to stay away.

This is a competition designed for invited Premier League and Championship sides with Category One academies to play their younger players against seasoned pros from League's One and Two.

The competition's format needs a big rethink though, plummeting attendances prove that.

Sunderland named Jack Rodwell, Brendan Galloway, Donald Love and Callum McManaman in their side, Rodwell named in central defence again as he bids to revamp his career.

Rodwell was solid enough last night but the rough and tumble of the Championship is a different beast altogether.

Sunderland, bottom of the Championship, are in real danger of being automatically entered into this competition next season should the worst happen and they drop into League One.

The opening stages were almost as quiet as the terraces with few chances of any note, though Jack Diamond had to be alert to clear off the line after a scrambled Grimsby corner.

Sunderland, who had an extra man in midfield, were giving the ball away too easily but grew into the contest, Luke Molyneux dragged an effort wide before McManaman fired over.

McManaman busy throughout, eager to stamp his authority in the game and his influence increased as the half wore on curling a low effort wide of the left-hand post 33 minutes in.

Sunderland, with caretaker boss Robbie Stockdale watching on, were the dominant force as the first half came to an close, Adam Bale, skipper Thomas Beadling, Molyneux and

McManaman impressing.

This was arguably the best Sunderland had played in the competition, shame then that they were already out of it.

Diamond sparkled with an early second-half pildriver, flashing just wide of the right-hand post but it was Grimsby that looked more threatening after the break.

Jamille Matt saw an effort from six-yards saved by James Talbot, with their counter-attack causing problems for the Sunderland defence.

McManaman was much quieter second half with Sunderland's attacking threat lessened.

Out of nowhere there was a glut of goals, Galloway fouled Harry Cardwell in the area, JJ Hooper stepping up to open the scoring from the spot in the 78th minute.

Within a minute, Sunderland were level - Love with a tidy finish inside the area after Galloway burst forward looking to make immediate amends.

Neither side could find a winner so the game went straight to penalties.

With goal difference Sunderland couldn't climb above Grimsby anyway so the penalty shoot-out for the extra point was utterly pointless.

For the record Sunderland won the shoot out 7-6. The Checkatrade Trophy over for another season.

Sunderland U21s (4-3-3): Talbot, Love, Galloway, Bale, Beadling (C), Rodwell, Gamble (Hackett, 82), E. Robson, McManaman, Diamond (Greenwood, 76), Molyneux

Subs: Taylor, Woud, Storey, Hume, Wright.

Booked: Bale (90)

Goals: Love (79)

Grimsby Town (4-4-2): Killip, Mills, K. Osborne (C), Kelly, Clifton (Powles, 88) M. Rose, Jaiyesimi, J. Osborne (McAllister, 69), Hooper, Cardwell, Matt.

Subs: McKeown, Dixon, Sawyer, McMillan, Davis

Booked:

Goals: Hooper (pen, 78)

Attendance 248 (7 SAFC fans)