Sunderland under-23s top off remarkable turnaround by sealing Premier League 2 play-off place
Sunderland’s under-23 side have secured a place in the Premier League 2 play-offs after a 1-1 draw with Stoke City.
The club’s fifth-placed finish tops off a remarkable turnaround after they finished the 2019/20 campaign with just a single point to their name following the season being curtailed.
While the game was already a crucial one for the Black Cats, so too did it offer the chance for some first-team players to gain some vital minutes.
Tom Flanagan and Jake Vokins were both involved for Sunderland’s second string as they stepped-up their injury returns ahead of the play-offs. For Flanagan it was a first appearance since the Papa John’s Trophy final, while Vokins was making his third straight appearance for Elliott Dickman’s side
But the duo had little to do early on as the Black Cats began brightly – Josh Hakwes firing wide as he lost balance before Oliver Younger could only divert a free-kick wide on the stretch.
Stoke, who sat second in Premier League 2 Division 2 ahead of the clash, were still a threat though and D’Margio Wright-Phillips flashed a strike across goal just moments after Will Harris had come close after a Vokins cross.
Stephen Wearne and trialist Tyrese Dyce both came close before the break for the Black Cats, who withdrew central defender Flanagan at the interval.
Sunderland continued to push for the opener in the second half with Hawkes sending an effort the wrong side of the post shortly after the restart.
Christian Norton then struck the post for Stoke, while Will Harris then fired an effort off the crossbar – before Hawkes opened the scoring with a well-taken free-kick.
The lead lasted just two minutes though, with Tom Sparrow drawing Stoke level.
But a point was enough for the Black Cats to secure a top five finish and a play-off place.
The Wearsides will now face Stoke City in a one-legged semi final at the Bet365 Stadium (date tbc), with the winner then facing either Wolves or Crystal Palace.
Premier League 2 rules state that the final will be played at the main stadium of the club who finished higher in the league.
Sunderland XI: Patterson, K Richardson, Vokins (Hackett 71), Wilding, Younger, Flanagan (Almond 46), Hawkes, Wearne, Harris, Neil, Trialist
Sunderland subs: Taylor, A Richardson, Trialist