Sunderland’s much-changed side were able to show their class in a fairly routine performance this evening in which they ran out as 2-0 winners over League Two Notts County.
An own goal in the first half and a Jerome Sinclair penalty separated the two teams on a night which was perhaps most notable for being Duncan Watmore’s first senior appearance for Sunderland in over a year.
Sunderland: Robbin Ruiter, Jack Bainbridge, Alim Ozturk, Glenn Loovens, Bryan Oviedo, Dylan McGeouch, Bali Mumba, Luke O’Nien, Max Power, Duncan Watmore, Jerome Sinclair
Subs: Anthony Patterson, Jake Hackett, Jack Diamond, Tom Flanagan, Jordan Hunter, Josh Maja, Benji Kimpioka
Notts County: Ross Fitzsimons, Elliot Hewitt, Richard Duffy, David Vaughan, Kristian Dennis, Nathan Thomas, Shaun Brisley, Terry Hawkridge, Will Patching, Daniel Jones, Rob Milsom
Subs: Branislav Pindroch, Andy Kellett, Noor Husin, Elliot Ward, Cedric Evina, Jon Stead, Remaye Campbell
The visitors were the first to come closest when Nathan Thomas rose to meet a free-kick, but the delivery was too high and thankfully evaded him.
Sunderland had their first real chance when Duncan Watmore cut acros the boc before sliding the ball through to Bali Mumba, but the one-time Lads captain aimed his shot squarely at the open palms of Ross Fitzsimons.
Max Power was unlucky not to be the first name on the scoresheet after his curling effort from outside the box was inches away from arching into the top right corner.
When the first goal of the evening did come around - it would be ultimately credited to Watmore. The roadrunner raced into the box and fired off an initial effort which had it’s momentum halted by Fitzsimons, but was trundled into the net regardless by Daniel Jones to give Sunderland the advantage.
It was technically an own goal, sure, but it’s more romantic to give it to Duncan on his long awaited return. He fully deserved it for his first half performance too; he played like a man who’d never known a year long absence from competitive football.
Despite having a flurry of chances in the opening interval, the Black Cats could’ve conceded a rather cheap equaliser when Jack Bainbridge let his marker - Kristian Dennis - run into the box unmarked to meet a far reaching corner. Mercifully, Robbin Ruiter produced some brilliant reactions to parry away Dennis’ header from two or so yards out.
The first half ended with the Sunderland in front as the better team overall.
HT: Sunderland 1-0 Notts County (Jones OG 22’)
Sunderland were the dominant outfit in the second half while Notts County seldom saw themselves making plays in the final third at all.
Watmore played a tidy one-two with Sinclair, beating several men all the while, only for the resulting strike to be turned behind for a corner.
It seemed as though the Lads were getting forward and into the Notts County box at literally every possible opportunity - yet they were constantly found wanting when staring down the goalmouth.
Eventually, however, the continued efforts would be rewarded. Substitute Benji Kimpioka’s marauding run into the box could only be halted by a reckless tackle which saw none of the ball and all of the youngster - thus awarding Sunderland a penalty which was slotted away by Sinclair.
The Black Cats remains calmly and securely in control for the remainder of the match, having a few more chances created by the usual suspects while keeping their opposition comfortably at bay.
There could’ve been an iconic moment for the academy right at the death when Kimpioka teed up Mumba who had time to gather himself before shooting from only a handful of yards out - but Fitzsimons produced what was admittedly a very good save.
Ultimately, the match ended with a fully-deserved victory for Sunderland, securing a place in the third round draw for the Checkatrade Trophy.
FT: Sunderland 2-0 Notts County (Jones OG 22’, Sinclair 73’ P)
Robbin Ruiter, 7/10: Made a great save in the first half to prevent Notts County from posing what was their sole realistic threat to our victory.
Jack Bainbridge, 6/10: Looked somewhat unsure of himself and lost his marker, which led to Ruiter needing to make the aforementioned save.
Alim Ozturk, 6/10: Unremarkably competent.
Glenn Loovens, 7/10: A sturdy, calming presence for the Sunderland back line.
Bryan Oviedo, 7/10: Flew down the flank all evening and swung in plenty of dangerous deliveries.
Bali Mumba, 7/10: Industrious and a good passer of the ball; he plays with a maturity that he shouldn’t have for another decade.
Luke O’Nien, 6/10: Plenty of energy, as per.
Max Power, 6/10: Still relatively quieter, most likely in light of that phantom red card, but decent nonetheless.
Dylan McGeough, 6/10: Tidy, assured and generally more of the same from him.
Duncan Watmore, 8/10: Caused Notts County all sorts of problems and will ultimately be credited with the opening goal. He certainly didn’t look like a man who has endured a year long absence from competitive football.
Jerome Sinclair, 7/10: Looked excellent bombing down the wing but was frequently found wanting in front of goal. Still though, he scored the penalty didn’t he?
(SUB) Benji Kimpioka, 7/10: Offered an abundance of energy racing down the flank and is unlucky to not be recording an assist.
(SUB) Jake Hackett, 6/10: Decent. Kept things ticking over.
(SUB) Jack Diamond, N/A: Not on long enough to reasonably rate.
Man of the Match: Duncan Watmore