By Connor Armstrong
Our under-23s slipped to a late 2-1 defeat against Sunderland on Saturday afternoon.
Donyell Malen had given us the lead with an incisive finish after both sides battled out a goalless first half.
Lynden Gooch levelled the scores for the hosts in the 68th minute, before substitute Luke Molyneux scored with his first touch with just three minutes remaining.
This defeat means we remain fourth in Premier League 2, and can no longer catch third-placed Liverpool.
SETTING THE SCENE
The headline news from Steve Gatting’s team selection was that Joe Willock was called upon to play alongside older brother Chris for the first time at this level.
The Willock brothers were joined by Josh Dasilva in an attacking trio behind striker Malen.
Marcus McGuane paired up with Maitland-Niles in central midfield.
Chiori Johnson returned to the side, with Ben Sheaf, Joseph Olowu and Cohen Bramall completing a back four that lined up in front of goalkeeper Hugo Keto.
The hosts started strongly and Gatting’s defence were required to be alert, with Olowu called upon to make a crucial intervention as Gooch looked to split the back line.
Joel Asoro and Ethan Robson then both went close for the Black Cats, but were thwarted by a combination of Keto and the Finnish goalkeeper’s defence.
Maitland-Niles then had our best chance of the opening 45 minutes, forcing a strong save out of Sunderland’s Max Stryjek.
Keto was called into action again just before the interval, making a smart save to deny Gooch the game’s opening goal.
While the first half lacked goals, the second had been underway for just 10 minutes when Malen found the net with a well-placed strike.
The hosts were not to be seen off easily, however, with Gooch striking back to draw the Black Cats level just 13 minutes later.
Sunderland were now in the ascendancy and threatening to find a winning goal, something which duly arrived when Molyneux beat Keto with his first touch after coming on.
Gatting’s side attempted to stage a late comeback, but it was too little too late at Eppleton Collieries as we slipped to our first defeat in PL2 since February 19.
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