Sunderland’s U-23 side faced Porto B this evening in the Premier League International Cup final at the Stadium of Light where the Lads from Wearside were beaten 5-0.
Over 20,000 fans made their way to the SoL this evening hoping to catch a rare glimpse of silverware; however, they were left disappointed by a very good Porto B side - a far more developed group of footballers who in fact won the Portuguese second division last season.
Ahead of the game, many viewed this as a great opportunity for several youngsters to stake a claim for first-team football should they be able to impose themselves on this cup final. That, however, proved difficult against a very talented opposition, and Sunderland’s youngsters simply couldn’t cope with the pace, accuracy and quality of the Porto side.
Sunderland started brightly with Ethan Robson firing over inside the first couple of minutes, but Porto found the opener after 5 minutes thanks to some clever running by Wenderson Galeno who got in behind the defence before opening his body to enable him to curl a smart finish into the bottom corner.
Sunderland saw plenty of the ball, but just couldn’t do anything with it as the visitors settled into the game. After 25 minutes Porto were awarded a penalty from a silly Donald Love foul which thankfully was well saved by Max Stryjek.
Sunderland again had a couple of half chances, but just couldn’t work the ball into a dangerous area - a theme that would be repeated all night as the lads tried to find a way through the side in blue and white, yet struggled to apply that final piece of quality.
Galeno doubled the lead shortly after the 30 minute mark as Porto worked the ball out wide and to the byline before pulling the ball back for the young Brazillian to hammer home from 12 yards out. The Brazillian was good throughout, and looks to be joining the Portuguese side in the near future from Brazillian side Grêmio Esportivo Anápolis - where were our Brazillian loan stars?
Galeno missed a chance to secure his hat-trick, but Andre Pereira atoned for Galeno’s profligacy on the stroke of half time as he tucked in an easy finish after a wonderful ball was played across the Sunderland box.
Lynden Gooch moved more central in the second half and looked far more effective when allowed the opportunity to influence proceedings from the middle of the park, yet the game was all but over after the 50th minute as young Belgian, Joris Kayemebe profited from another overlap down the right hand side and slotted in a casual finish with consummate ease. The young Belgian was superb throughout and his physicality, pace and technical ability was clear for all to see.
A mere 5 minutes later and Porto hit the final nail in the Sunderland coffin after a neat headed finish from Awaziem. Game over.
The youngsters struggled to assert themselves on the game, and that was totally understandable considering the very apparent gulf in class between the two sides. However, this game was definitely a much needed occasion for several reasons.
To begin with, it gave the youngsters a great opportunity to play in front of a big crowd, and experience what it means to really play on a relatively big stage. Ultimately the Lads couldn’t find a win, but they certainly didn’t shame themselves - especially against such impervious opposition.
Secondly, the game demonstrated that although the likes of Lynden Gooch and Donald Love will be good squad players for the next couple of years, they still aren’t good enough to stake a claim for regular first-team football. Neither are youngsters like Elliot Embleton and Ethan Robson, who really struggled this evening. I don’t want to be too critical, because as already mentioned the opposition were simply brilliant, but the game certainly showed that these lads won’t be able to jump into first-team shirts and do the business anytime soon - they need time and patience as they grow.
Finally the game must certainly act as an indicator to the club’s hierarchy that although these youngsters can certainly fill in sporadically when needed - investment this summer is a must.
Ultimately, although the result wasn’t what the young Lads wanted, the game itself was a great experience, and afforded the Lads the opportunity to understand what perhaps they need to work on over the summer. This could well have acted as a great yardstick for all involved, and I think it’s fair to say that everyone is extremely proud of the Lads’ effort in getting so far, and representing the club to such a high standard.
Well done fellas, keep those chins up high.