Josh Maja might’ve started the match on the brightest of notes when Alim Ozturk’s long ball sent him racing away from his marker toward goal, but his eventual shot from outside the box went well wide of the mark. Chris Maguire came closer in these opening exchanges, with a free-kick that sailed only inches over the bar.
Stoke’s young lads had their first real chance when their allocated old-head Charlie Adam stepped up to take a free-kick on the edge of the box, but his effort could only strike the wall and bounce harmlessly out of play.
The first twenty minutes went by without much to shout about. Neither team looked like doing any decisive in the final third and both found the other fairly easy to contain. The closest thing we had to a goalscoring opportunity in this time was a rather implausible penalty appeal from Charlie Wyke which the referee predictably waved away.
Sunderland were given a fleeting fright when a through ball sent one of Stoke’s youngsters down the middle, with only Robbin Ruiter separating him and an empty net - but the Dutchman was quicker off the mark and punted the ball back up the field.
Maja made the first real attempt to get bums on seats when his effort from range gave Potters’ stopper Daniel Gylloai his first real test, lunging at full stretch to push the effort over the bar. Chris Maguire soon after found himself in a promising position amid a goalmouth scramble, but Stoke got bodies in the way to deflect the danger.
The second half was more exciting than the first; Sunderland now appeared to have a greater share of the possession and were looking more competent with it going forward - with Denver Hume especially giving the Stoke back line plenty to concern themselves with.
He might’ve even had himself a goal when he burst forward with pace, cut inside and fired low to the far right, but Gylloai once again did well to get a palm to it.
Maguire’s next attempt at a free-kick was the closest any side had come all evening, curling an effort which cleared the wall but didn’t quite drop low enough as it bounced off the corner of the bar and back into open play.
Substitute Benji Kimpioka was then gifted a golden opportunity by fellow academy graduate Hume when the latter drifted a cross comfortably into the path of the former but, from a mere four yards out, Kimpioka managed to send the ball skyward.
Ultimately, although Sunderland ramped up the pressure in the second half, they couldn’t find that decisive final ball - and so the game went to penalties.
What the Lads couldn’t do in normal time, they more than made up for in the penalty shootout. Jerome Sinclair, Dylan McGeouch, Luke O’Nien and Hume all converted from the spot while Robbin Ruiter ensured that Stoke could only net two of their four - collectively ensuring Sunderland were triumphant in the first game of their Checkatrade Trophy campaign.
Robbin Ruiter, 7/10: Had a very uneventful game between the sticks; comfortably dealt with whatever did manage to come his way. Gets a bonus point for making two saves in the shootout.
Denver Hume, 8/10: Looked a threat whenever he got forward and was unlucky not to get a goal to separate the two sides. Similar to the above, I’m giving him another point for scoring the winning penalty.
Reece James, 6/10: There seemed to be some miscommunication between him and Ruiter every now and then but was alright otherwise.
Alim Ozturk, 6/10: Looked reasonably assured and handled the scarce Stoke offensives effectively.
Tom Flanagan, 7/10: Decent with his distribution and solid in the tackle. Not a bad debut.
Dylan McGeouch, 7/10: Tidy and sturdy. Another good game from him.
Luke O’Nien, 5/10: Chased the ball around relentlessly which made him look industrious at some points and aimless at others. Might need to just calm it down a bit!
Ethan Robson, 5/10: Didn’t seem to see much of him really.
Chris Maguire, 4/10: Generally quite poor.
Josh Maja, 6/10: Alright. Might’ve got lucky with his effort from outside the box but ultimately didn’t have much to work with.
Charlie Wyke, 6/10: Hold up play improved in the second half as he got more involved in our attacking motions; didn’t do anything particularly outstanding.
(SUB) Jerome Sinclair, 6/10: Offered pace - the sole attribute needed to make this game less mind-numbingly boring.
(SUB) Benji Kimpioka, 4/10: Looked lively but missed an absolute sitter!
(SUB) Luke Molyneux, 5/10: Wasn’t really on long enough to make a real impact.
Unused subs: Max Stryjek, Don Love, Jake Hackett, Brandon Taylor
Man of the Match: Denver Hume.