IT WAS honours even at the Academy of Light after Sunderland fought back to gain a deserved draw against a powerful City side, writes Neville Pilkington.
Norwich won the FA Youth Cup last season, beating Chelsea in the final, and obviously have a good Youth set-up – and the young Black Cats did well to limit them to a single goal lead at half-time.
The Canaries took a third-minute lead when the hosts were caught over-elaborating in their own penalty area. Livewire striker Lewis Byrne-Hewitt intercepted one pass too many and went on to coolly slot low past Sunderland keeper Max Stryjek into the corner.
Sunderland came back with a Josh Robson strike being deflected just wide for a corner and then Rees Greenwood made a storming run down the left but his shot was parried by Norwich keeper Ben Killip for Jordan Blinco to bang the ball back in, but straight at the keeper.
Only a great save by Stryjek prevented Byrne-Hewitt from doubling the lead and the period of strong pressure continued with City’s Kofz Boateng crashing the ball against the bar.
Henry Randall drove the rebound towards the top corner but Strynek pulled off a stunning save by tipping the ball over.
Sunderland had been distinctly second best during the first period and were lucky to be only a goal behind at the break on balance of play and chances created.
However, they came out strongly in the second half and equalised eight minutes after the restart.
It was a tremendous goal from captain Martin Smith, cutting inside before curling a super low strike just inside the far post with his left foot.
The goal gave the Wearsiders a real boost and they began to really test the City defence.
Just before the hour mark, American striker Lynden Gooch had great chance to give Sunderland the lead when he was through and took the ball wide of the keeper only to go too far and the golden opportunity was lost.
The home side were much more impressive this half and had come back well but the visitors were by no means out of it and full back Michel Efete’s shot come centre hit the bar from a tight angle on 67 minutes.
Then home defender Michael Ledger saved the day by intercepting a shot and turning the ball against the bar for fruitless corner.
As the game drew to a close both sides seemed to settle for a point following a hard, well-fought encounter between two good footballing sides.
Coach Carlton Fairweather said afterwards: “It was a good even battle. Although our keeper had to make some good saves, I think we had the better chances.
“But overall a draw was a fair result between two good sides.”
Sunderland: Stryjek. Ellison, Robson J, Robson E (Pybus 72), Colquhoun, Ledger, Blinco, Smith, Gooch, Greenwood (Nelson 77), McCarthy (McEvoy 76). Subs not used: Roberts, Taylor.