Sunderland ended their group stage campaign in the Papa John’s Trophy with a 2-1 defeat to Fleetwood Town at Highbury.
Two goals in the space of eight minutes from Barrie McKay and Mark Duffy sealed the Cod Army’s comeback, after falling behind to a 15th minute own goal from James Hill.
This result meant that Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town topped Group A North and the Black Cats progressed to the second round for the second time in the last three seasons.
The Sunderland manager made eight changes to the side that dropped out of the FA Cup after losing 1-0 to Mansfield Town on Saturday. A host of youngsters were provided with their debuts in the first team, with Josh Hawkes leading the line for the Black Cats.
Oliver Younger partnered Jordan Willis and Brandon Taylor in defence, shielding Anthony Patterson’s goal. George Dobson held his place in midfield, with Callum McFadzean and Jack Diamond also both retaining their position on the wings.
After featuring for just under 30 minutes on Saturday, Elliot Embleton was provided with his first start after returning from a long-term injury.
First Half Action
Both sides began the game with the changes that both managers made trying to get a foothold into the match, with Fleetwood the first team to trouble the opposition’s goal. Sam Finley’s right-footed cross from the right wing was met by the boot of Sam Morris, but it brought an easy low save from Anthony Patterson.
Sunderland then created the best opening of the first 10 minutes with youngster, Oliver Younger, coming the closest when his diving header from just over six yards out smashing off the underside of the crossbar.
Only moments later, the Black Cats’ very inexperienced side had taken the lead when a through ball looked for Aiden O’Brien, but it connected off the heel of the Sunderland attacker. Eventually, it dropped for Callum McFadzean, whose arrowing shot took a deflection and hit off the inside of the right post and into the back of the net.
Fleetwood responded well to falling behind and almost found an equaliser when Mark Duffy fed the ball through to Josh Morris, whose low shot was blocked at the near post by Anthony Patterson.
Sunderland always looked like they had the creativity in order to find a second goal, and Elliot Embleton seemed to be at the heart of every Sunderland attack and almost got on the score sheet himself. He played a quick one-two with Dan Neil and found himself on the by-line inside the penalty area on the left-hand side. Embleton’s shot struck off the near post, and bounced out for a goal kick.
Just before half time, the visitors were forced in-to an early change when Oliver Younger’s night was cut short with an injury, with Ciaran Dunne replacing him. Callum McFadzean dropped back into the centre-back role, with Dunne slotting in at left wing-back.
Only a couple of minutes later, the half time interval was called with Sunderland going into the break holding the one-goal lead due to an own goal from James Hill.
Half Time - Fleetwood Town 0-1 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
Less than five minutes into the second half, the Black Cats were forced into their second substitution when Ciaran Dunne only lasted around five minutes of the game before he suffered a shoulder injury, meaning that he had to be replaced by Vinnie Steels.
Only seconds later, Fleetwood found an equaliser, heavily against the run of play with Barrie McKay levelling for the hosts. Josh Morris’ cross into the penalty area picked out Barrie McKay, whose right-footed shot was tapped into the bottom left corner.
Joey Barton’s side completed their quick-fire comeback within less than ten minutes when Shayden Morris used his pace to knock the ball past Callum McFadzean, who suffered a hamstring injury whilst chasing back. Morris sprinted to the by-line before cutting the ball back to Duffy, who slotted it into the bottom right corner.
Due to McFadzean’s injury, Parkinson were forced into a third substitution with McFadzean being replaced by Sam Wilding.
As the game progressed, Fleetwood looked like the more dangerous side and almost doubled their advantage when Barrie McKay’s free-kick from just under 30 yards out struck the Sunderland crossbar.
During the final stages of the match, Sunderland didn’t really produce a clear-cut opportunity to equalise, with Fleetwood claiming the three points to top Group A North.
Full Time - Fleetwood Town 2-1 Sunderland AFC
A lot has changed since Sunderland played their second group stage match in the EFL Trophy against Carlisle United.
Overall, the name of the competition has had a range of different names over the course of the last three seasons, but the naming rights have changed yet again to the Papa John’s Trophy.
Also, more specifically at Sunderland, there is now a change of perspective, as there is a palpable emotion growing between different sets of fans to both the manager and the ownership of the club.
In the past couple of weeks, there has been an inquisitive reaction from some Sunderland fans to why the young players have not been provided with any minutes during the League One and FA Cup campaign.
During pre-season, both Dan Neil and Jack Diamond both had impressed fans and Parkinson, who reiterated the idea that they would be kept in amongst the first team until January at least.
On Tuesday night, most of the youngsters were provided with their first start of the season and for fans, impressed despite a number of issues that were out of their control.
In the opening 45, the tempo of play was increased massively to what fans have witnessed over previous games, and received their reward through the goal in the 15th minute.
Then, three injuries at the end of the first half and start of the second allowed Fleetwood with a route back into the match, with an unsettled Sunderland side lacking the impetus and upper-hand that they have kept hold of in the opening 45.
Finishing second in the group provides us with a route through to the next round of the competition, which is played at the beginning of December. As everyone has stated during this season, the EFL Trophy isn’t the biggest priority, but it provides chances for the younger and fringe players to show their metal and stake a claim to be a part of the first team.
On Saturday, the Black Cats return to League One action when MK Dons travel to the Stadium of Light, as Parkinson will ring the changes yet again with the main players returning to the fold. After two successive defeats, a win will reproduce some momentum that can be used in League One. A victory will also add three points to our tally and due to a reduced schedule due to the international break, three points could propel us up the table.