Sunderland U21s v Everton U21s
Everton Under-21s staged a courageous comeback to record a hard-earned point in their meeting with Sunderland.
After trailing 2-0 midway through the second half, Conor McAleny and Francisco Junior both struck fine goals to maintain the Blues' unbeaten start to their Group One campaign.
The game came to life on 50 minutes when Mikael Mandron opened the scoring with a shot from distance.
Tyias Browning’s own goal eight minutes later looked to have sent Sunderland on their way to maximum points, up until Everton’s dramatic late response.
The first half of the contest belonged largely to the Black Cats who created several decent opportunities in and around the Everton penalty area.
The warning signs were there from just the fourth minute when striker Ryan Noble’s close-range header shaved the crossbar.
Efforts off-target from promising positions proved to be the story of the half for the home side who enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but could not break down Everton’s stubborn defence.
Craig Lynch fired wide from 15 yards out, while French forward Mandron twice failed to work keeper Mason Springthorpe with shots from inside the box.
Despite soaking up the pressure, Everton knocked the ball around confidently when in possession with the tenacious Franciso Junior orchestrating play from central midfield.
The Blues’ best opportunity inside the first 45 minutes fell to left-back Luke Garbutt, who curled a free-kick narrowly wide of the post from just outside the box. Matthew Kennedy also had a far post header easily saved.
Having been wasteful in the opening half, Sunderland were much more ruthless after the break. Just five minutes after the restart, Mandron finally found his range to open the scoring.
The powerful centre-forward hammered in an unstoppable shot from 20 yards out. It was such a convincing finish that the ball got wedged between the stanchion and net in the top corner of the goal.
Sunderland’s lead was doubled just eight minutes later when the unfortunate Browning turned the ball into his own net.
Noble had broken though the Everton defence and rounded Springthorpe, but in a valiant effort to get back and clear, Browning could only prod into the unguarded goal.
Sunderland were well in control at this point. Gorrin came close to scoring a third with a long-range effort and Matthew Pennington was required to make a brave last-ditch block.
However, Everton were suddenly back in the game midway through the half when McAleny stroked the ball into the bottom corner from 10 yards out.
Just seconds earlier the striker had been denied by a fantastic sprawling save by Ben Wilson, but this time he fired low to half the deficit.
The contest ebbed and flowed as Sunderland looked to put the game out of reach and Everton pressed for the equaliser.
10 minutes before the end, Francisco Junior ensured his team would head back to Merseyside with a point after scoring a goal of the highest quality.
Collecting possession 30 yards out, the Portuguese youth international unleashed a swerving shot that dipped just under the crossbar and left Wilson with no chance.
Everton had the momentum heading into the final few minutes and Conor Grant almost won the game with a shot that flashed across goal.
As it was, Alan Stubbs was happy to settle for a point, one which looked extremely unlikely after three quarters of the game.