STOKE CITY’s Under-18s came away from their Group 1 meeting against Sunderland with a hard-fought point after a 2-2 draw at the Academy of Light on Saturday morning.
It had looked like they were going to snatch all three when Peter Makrillos pounced on an error from the Black Cats ‘keeper to edge City in front on 78 minutes, but Nathan Taylor’s strike at the second attempt six minutes from time meant the spoils were shared.
Taylor had given Sunderland an early lead when his cross-come-shot from the right squirmed under Dale Eve, but Derice Richards equalised with a fine goal just before half-time.
The Potters will be happy with a point, especially after they had thrown away a two-goal lead in the corresponding fixture between the two sides earlier in the campaign.
City began with a youthful eleven that included Under-16s player Kelvin Douglas, who was afforded a starting berth just behind the front two of Richards and Nathan Ricketts-Hopkinson.
The hosts were dominant from the first minute, however, as City struggled to get a foothold in possession in the windy conditions – Sunderland’s full-back Lane stung Eve’s palms on three minutes with a well hit shot.
They got the advantage their play merited on nine minutes with a goal that City’s Bermudan ‘keeper will want to forget. Taylor found space on the right wing and easily side-stepped Joel Taylor before whipping a ball into the penalty area.
Although the delivery bounced just before Eve, making a comfortable claim difficult, he will still be disappointed that it managed to escape his grasp and creep into the bottom corner.
Sunderland continued in the ascendency, but Makrillos had Stoke’s first look at goal on 20 minutes when his drive from the edge of the area was an easily collected by the home team’s stopper Burke.
After the Black Cats’ Smith had flicked a header wide when in plenty of space, Eve redeemed himself with a superb stop to deny central midfielder Agnew’s header on the half hour.
If any team were going to score it was going to be Sunderland, but alas, a City equaliser came out of nothing two minutes before half-time through Richards.
An advantage played by the referee didn’t help the hosts and Jake Cook robbed them of possession and charged through the middle, before playing in the Potters striker through in the right-channel.
Rather than take a touch and advance into the area, though, Richards chose to take a first time shot – and it paid off, with his effort whistling into the net, giving City a much-needed fillip going into the second period.
They still made a double change at half-time in an attempt to swing the general momentum of the match, and one of the substitutes, Olly Shenton, fired a good shot just over the bar on 56 minutes.
The second-half was fought mainly in the middle third, with the home side still on top but Stoke's resolute and organised defending was personified in the form of Shenton, whose last-ditch block denied Taylor on 74 minutes.
Lane went close with another long-range effort a couple of minutes later, but Stoke stunned the hosts on 78 when they notched their second of the game to go into the lead.
A back-pass to Sunderland ‘keeper Burke appeared harmless, but his touch was too heavy and Makrillos nipped in, took it round the stricken stopper and tapped the ball into the empty net.
With an unlikely three points on the cards, Stoke looked to cling onto their lead but they were ultimately unsuccessful – the direct Taylor picked up the ball in City’s half in the 84th minute, advanced into the area and after his initial effort was blocked by Ed Sanders, his second nestled in the corner.
Both sides spurned chances for a winner as Taylor had a shot that went straight at Eve before Makrillos cut inside but his curling effort deflected behind, leaving both sides thinking what might have been.
Sunderland: Burke; Noble, Beadling, Ledger, Lane; Holland, Robson (McCarthy 81), Agnew (c), Thomas; Smith; Stinson (Robson 56).
Stoke City: Eve; Cook, Gardner, Sanders, Taylor; Lecygne; Makrillos, Monlouis (Shenton 45); Douglas (Westley 45); Ricketts-Hopkinson (Barrington 62), Richards.