Sunderland Under-21s 1 (Lynch 1')
Stoke City Under-21s 1 (Alabi 5')
STOKE CITY'S development squad began 2014 with a creditable 1-1 draw away to Sunderland on Monday night in the Barclays U21 Premier League.
The visitors had to come from behind early in the first half after the Black Cats had opened the scoring with just 40 seconds on the clock.
James Alabi, who had just returned from a loan spell with Skrill Premier side Forest Green Rovers, was on hand to ensure City came back to the Potteries with a point after a well taken leveller in an enthralling encounter.
The Potters went into the game having not played a competitive fixture since mid-December and were made to pay after a sloppy start when George Honeyman's through ball was latched onto by Craig Lynch who coolly dinked his shot over the onrushing Daniel Bachmann.
Sunderland, who were notorious quick starters having taken the lead in eight of their previous 11 games heading into the game, could have added a second a minute later but Alex Grant was on hand to deny Duncan Watmore's shot after the attacker had run at the heart of the Stoke defence.
The Potters didn't dwell on their slow start and after French midfielder Eddy Lecygne forced Jordan Pickford into a comfortable save with a 25-yard effort aimed at the top right-hand corner, City were quickly back on level terms in the fifth minute.
The ball was played through to the pacey Alabi who expertly chipped Pickford from close range into the bottom left-hand corner to net his fourth Stoke goal of the campaign.
The equaliser seemed to breathe new life into Glyn Hodges' side as they went in search of taking the lead and they nearly grabbed it just three minutes later but forward Karim Rossi was unable to keep his header down after Adam Thomas' delightful right-wing cross.
Sunderland still had chances of their own in an open half of football as Lynch fired an effort from the edge-of-the-area just wide before Bachmann, who was returning to Under-21 action after an extended spell with the first team squad, superbly denied Honeyman's low drive.
Alabi had a great chance to put the visitors ahead for the first time in the game but he was denied by a good save from the Sunderland 'keeper before later being thwarted by a latch ditch challenge from David Ferguson as the striker bore down on goal.
The hosts finished the half stronger but were unable to unlock the Potters defence as Ed Sanders blocked Watmore's goal bound effort, before Bachmann saved Scott Harrison's 30-yard drive.
Sunderland carried their momentum into the second half and within three minutes of the restart should have retaken the lead but Watmore's cross was missed by three onrushing attackers at the far post.
Dawson was proving to be a real thorn to the home side with his dead ball deliveries but City were unable to capitalise as both former Portsmouth defender Alex Grant and Rossi wasted good chances.
Kevin Ball's side finished the stronger of the two sides but were unable to find a winner with David Moberg Karlsson, El-Hadji Ba and Honeyman being kept out by the impressive Bachmann.