One of the many 'benefits' us season card holders receive when we sign up to our seats for the season is free entry into all of the U21s games that are played at Eppleton Colliery Welfare. Great, you may think, but games are so rarely played there that you might be lucky to get 3 or 4 visits out of it.
The way it's put across to us in our season packs annoys me. Back in the day you were able to watch almost every reserve team game at Durham AFC, or on the odd occasion it was played at the Stadium of Light. These days those of us obsessed by everything Sunderland that like to attend these games (or those of us like me who have nothing better to do on a Monday night) have to make do with sporadic fixtures played at Eppleton every two or three months, with the majority of games played during the day at the Academy which, we all know, is out of bounds to innocent fans that just want to watch their team play. Annoying.
Despite attending the last game at Eppleton, a 1-0 defeat to a Southampton side featuring Luke Shaw and Jack Cork on a bitterly cold November evening, I wasn't deterred from attending last night as, like I said before, I have absolutely nothing better to do.
Some of you may follow me on twitter (@GavinSAFC if anyone cares) and may have noticed I did a bit of tweeting live from last night's fixture. I've had numerous questions about the game asked on twitter so felt it would be a good opportunity to bash it all into one article on here, instead of answering the same question about fifty times.
Everton, top of the group after a good start to the season, brought their own support to Eppleton and, to their credit, they treated the occasion as it should have been. I didn't realise this until last night but Everton have their own branch of NE based supporters and their flags and banners were out in force.
Most of the crowd in attendance were buoyed by the news late on that Kader Mangane would start the game. I had suspected this throughout yesterday after Bramble's dodgy performance against West Brom left many questioning his place in the side, and it was an ideal opportunity for Steve Walford, who was one of many familiar faces in the crowd watching the game, to see what our new man is all about. Mangane, rather disappointingly, has yet to make it off the bench for the first string, despite arriving to some fanfare.
Also in attendance were former manager Ricky Sbragia, Graham Kavanagh, David Weir and Alan Stubbs. I was tempted to lob my half time pie at the latter, but thought better of it, as he's not worth an ounce of the horse meat that was likely inside of my tin of mince heaven.
From the off, we were the far better side. The U21s stroke the ball around with little pressure and had Everton pinned back in their own half for most of the game. Gorrin and Laidler in central midfield were dominant and were backed up by Mangane, whose quality showed as the Everton strikers struggled to win a ball from him throughout the half. Mangane won every single header that was played in to him and on various occasions showed pace - on two occasions I can remember him running for a ball alongside the pacy Everton forward, winning both with ease. Food for thought for MON on Saturday, considering how slow our back two has been all season.
Early in the game Ryan Noble had a chance to make it 1-0 to the home side. A spell of possession around the Everton area resulted into a fast ball in from the right, which deflected into the path of Noble who could only direct his header off the top of the crossbar.
Sunderland kept the ball well and Mitchell on the wing was lively throughout, but was easily scuppered on a number of occasions as he seemed insistent on cutting onto his right foot. It will be something he'll need to work on if he's to continue playing as an inside forward for the U21s, and if he ultimately wishes to impress the first team coaches.
A handball around 17 minutes into the half by Harrison, under no pressure whatsoever, resulted in an Everton free kick on the edge of the area. Luke Garbutt's left footed strike was wide of the post, and was a bit of a let off for Sunderland, considering they should never have been put in that position anyways.
The rest of the half was littered with opportunities and it will be this that annoys Kevin Ball, the U21s manager, the most. Mandron missed a glorious one-on-one having been threaded through by Lynch, and saw a host of other opportunities flash off target. Sunderland really should have tested the Everton keeper more, and those missed chances were ultimately the difference between winning and drawing the game.
All square at half time, Sunderland should have felt disappointed not to be in the lead. For a side allegedly the best in the group, Everton barely touched the ball and were limited to long punts up the pitch, which were comfortably gathered by Mangane and Harrison at the back. Mangane looked composed throughout the half and was just too strong and powerful for the small, young Everton striker to handle.
The second half started much like the first and it didn't take long for Sunderland to take the lead. Mandron, who had a decent first half despite missing a number of chances, made no mistake with his first of the second period. His clever footwork on the edge of the area left the Everton defence bewildered and his strike rocketed into the top corner to make it 1-0. It was a fantastic goal - I'm looking forward to seeing it back on SAFC TV.
All of the ball belonged to Sunderland and the lead was doubled ten minutes later. an accurate pass through the middle of the pitch from Craig Lynch was latched onto by Ryan Noble, who did all the hard work and rounded the keeper. His shot deflected off the Everton defender Browning and into the bottom corner to make it 2-0.
A few people asked me about how Noble played and I thought he had a solid game, if unspectacular. His runs down the channels were the source of most the Sunderland attacks and he had a better half in the second period when interchanging with Mandron up front. Alas, he's no better now than he was two years ago and is still physically small. I can't see Noble staying here beyond the end of the season, despite his finishing capabilities.
Sunderland seemed to slacken off after the second goal and, as a result of this, Everton came back into the game. Ben Wilson was forced to make one or two saves when called upon, the pick of the bunch a save with his right foot when one on one with the onrushing Everton striker.
Everton's first reply was a good goal but disappointing defensively. With Sunderland in full possession of the ball, the Toffees capitalised.
McAlany broke through with the defence on the back foot, skipping past Harrison and Mangane to finish low into Ben Wilson's net. The way the forward danced past the defence with pace was frustrating, especially as Mangane had been playing fairly well, but the blame should lie with Gorrin in midfield, who lost the ball far too much in the last thirty minutes of the game.
Adam Mitchell almost made it 3-1 when he turned the Everton full back inside out before blasting a shot just over the crossbar. Mitchell is a tricky winger with pace and guile but he created little in terms of opportunities. I've seen him have better games.
It was Everton's turn to score a wonder goal and it came from arguably their best player on the pitch, Francisco Junior, who looks a very, very good prospect. A bit of research tells me they signed him from Benfica last season.
Winning the ball around thirty yards out, Junior took one stride and hammered the ball into the top corner and past Wilson, who was caught completely off guard by the strike and probably should have done better for it. 2-2 and the game looked like it was there for the taking now as Everton looked eager to win the three points.
The last ten minutes of the game were nervy for both sides as each took turns to pepper the other's goal. Mandron and Noble had good chances to win it for Sunderland, whilst Everton had a number of crosses that flashed across the Sunderland area without anyone getting a touch on them.
Final score: 2-2. Sunderland should feel annoyed that we didn't convert more of our chances in the first half, and letting a two goal lead slip away is never good. Despite this, I was impressed with the style of football played by the lads and it would be nice to see the first team attempting to play in a similar fashion. The ball was stroked around the field with ease and the mantra was clearly to keep possession and look to thread balls through to the strikers.
Mandron up front was brilliant and it's easy to forget he's only 18 years old. He's physically as big as a first team striker should be and his touch, pace and hold up play was great to watch. His goal, like I said earlier, was crafted brilliantly and I feel the hype surrounding him is fully justified having seen him properly in the flesh for the first time.
Kader Mangane had a solid game. It intrigued me that he likes to stride forward from defence into defensive midfield often in order to play out from the back, something I feel is imperative for the first team to adopt, as O'Shea and Bramble seem to prefer to pass sideways to the full backs or long, hopeful punts to the strikers. He was dominant in the air, surprisingly quick when he needed to be and a decent passer. The fact he played a full 90 minutes was pleasing and I hope he gets a chance soon for the first team, as a new addition might be the spark we need to kick on for the rest of the season.
The only thing I felt went against him was the way he was easily side-stepped for their first goal, but he was always on the back foot after Gorrin stupidly conceded possession. I doubt that Steve Walford onlooking will have been too concerned by that as overall he had a good game and I'd be annoyed if we don't see more of him this season in the Premier League.
Anyways, I think I've rambled on enough, but you get the jist of it. More season ticket holders should get themselves along to watch the younger ones when they can. They play some brilliant football and it's a good opportunity to see what we have coming through. Mandron looks a real prospect and I can see him being in the first team picture in a few years time. He has that quality and swagger that all top strikers have and most importantly he scores goals, despite being an outlet-type striker who is most useful when the ball is played into him to hold it up.
We really should have won though.