Despite boasting the talent of Chelsea U23s midfielder Ruben Sammut in the centre of their midfield, Sunderland were overwhelmed by an incredibly decent Stoke City U23s side this evening, losing the game 3-1 in what was an entertaining affair.
Despite a rocket free kick from Benji Kimpioka, Stoke were always in control of the tie and when Lee Connelly saw red for his part in a fracas in the centre circle, the game was officially put to bed.
Top prospect Bali Mumba was utilised in a more unfamiliar number ten role just off lone striker Benji Kimpioka, with the aforementioned trialist Sammut occupying the centre of the field with Dan Neil.
Neither side really grasped hold of the game in the early stages, and as is often the case with these U23s ties the early part of the match is a battle for possession, with both sides trying to play out from the back and into wide areas.
After just fifteen minutes it was the visitors who took the lead. Some good work by Tre Pemberton - who was one of the standout performers for Stoke’s U21s side that drew with our seniors in the early stages of the Checkatrade Trophy - played in Jake Dunwoody, who swept home an effort from the edge of the box to put The Potters one up.
Sunderland struggled to break their more rugged opponents down, but when they were able to press it was almost successful - some good work off the ball by Lee Connelly and Benji Kimpioka saw the Lads win the ball back high up the pitch, but after a poor pull back from Kimpioka to Bali Mumba was cut out, Stoke saw their blushes spared.
But Sunderland’s inability to put their stamp on the game saw them go even further behind. Some poor defending coupled with a good cross into the area saw Gabriel Kyeremateng side-foot a lovely effort into the corner of the net to double Stoke’s lead.
Half time in the U23s game. Stoke just look bigger and quicker than us, with more guile in the wide areas. Sunderland's game-plan has been clearly to press Stoke high up the field but its not really worked thus far.#SAFCU23s 0-2 #StokeU23s— Roker Report (@RokerReport) February 25, 2019
Sunderland started the second period far brighter than they did in the first and certainly looked like a team intent on getting themselves back into the game. The tempo upped considerably, with Jack Diamond and Benji Kimpioka impressing with their early work off the ball. That said, once Sunderland’s initial eagerness wore off, Stoke found a way back into the game and looked the better side when in possession.
The home side almost scored when Jack Diamond’s well-struck free kick was saved by the Stoke goalkeeper, and the confidence which that gave the lads allowed us to place some significant pressure on The Potters for the first time in the match, who began to defend deeper and deeper as the match wore on.
Sunderland’s persistence paid off, and having won another free kick on the edge of the area up stepped Benji Kimpioka, who slammed home an absolutely superb effort in the top corner of the Stoke net to put the Lads back in the game.
Stoke’s anger at conceding showed in the moments that followed Sunderland’s goal, and was it not for a superb diving save from Max Sryjek they would have had themselves a third.
Moments later it all kicked off on the centre circle after a coming together between a number of players, the result of which saw Lee Connelly sent for an early shower as he was given a red card. With Sunderland down to ten men, they were really up against it.
And then, minutes before the end, Stoke put the game to bed.
Some good work down the right saw them work an opportunity, and despite getting a hand to Thibaud Verlinden’s shot, Max Stryjek wasn’t able to prevent the winger from making it 3-1 to the away side.
All in all it was a fairly poor performance from Sunderland, who won’t lose too much sleep when having already qualified for the next stage of the competition alongside this evening’s victors.
Max Stryjek, 5/10: Pretty helpless on both goals in the first half due to some hapless defending in front of him, but could have done loads better for the third. The Polish stopper was commanding on crosses though and, as always, his distribution of the ball was pretty good.
Jordan Hunter, 5/10: Easily beaten on the back foot and, like his teammate on the left, endured a torrid time against the Stoke City wingers.
Jack Bainbridge, 5/10: Both he and Young fell asleep in the first half for the Stoke goals.
Jacob Young, 6/10: As with Bainbridge, his concentration needed to be better when Stoke worked themselves into dangerous areas of the pitch. Made one very good tackle which cut out an almost certain shot on goal from Stoke in the second half though which he deserves credit for.
Kane Evans, 5/10: Struggled to deal with Verlinden. Not a great night for the left back.
(TRIALIST) Ruben Sammut, 6/10: Stroked the ball around nicely and was obviously eager to impress, but doesn’t look like the type of midfield player that is going to stun you with his silky passing and movement.
Dan Neil, 6/10: Tidy without really hurting Stoke. When Sunderland were looking for someone to produce a killer pass, we couldn’t rely on Neil to do so.
Benji Kimpioka, 7/10: Cut a lonely figure up top as he was starved of service for the most part in the first half, but took responsibility in the second and scored a fabulous free kick.
Lee Connelly, 4/10: Typical Connelly performance really, ran his socks off whenever we didn’t have the ball. Unfortunately, he did something daft which earned himself a red card - you could see as he walked off the pitch that he was distraught.
Bali Mumba, 5/10: Not really sure being sent out to press Stoke high up the field really worked for Mumba. He was lined up alongside Benji Kimpioka but it felt like, at times, the team could have done with his energy and relentlessness further back.
Jack Diamond, 6/10: Had an unusually quiet night by his own standards but occasionally showed the moments of magic that make him one of Sunderland’s most exciting young prospects.
(SUB) Williams Kokolo, 5/10: Was brought on in place of Mumba to help stretch the game but wasn’t really able to have the desired impact.
Man of the Match: Benji Kimpioka.