SUNDERLAND edged out a youthful Newcastle United second string at St James’s Park on an evening that illustrated the contrasting resources available to the Tyne-Wear rivals.
While a United team drawn mostly from their Academy rallied after a poor start, it was the more senior Black Cats side, boasting a strike-force that cost the club the best part of £4m, that prevailed.
It was one half of that costly forward line – Swedish striker Rade Prica – who opened the scoring before an unfortunate Fraser Forster own goal doubled the advantage in the early stages. United hit back with a neatly-taken goal by Jonny Godsmark but couldn’t make the most of a much improved second half showing.
United’s reserve team was used as a conveyor belt for up-and-coming talent last season, but such is the threadbare nature of Kevin Keegan’s squad now, it has become more of a fast-track route into the first-team squad.
Three of the starters were warming the bench at the Emirates on Saturday including 17-year-old Nile Ranger, who made an impressive debut in black-and-white. Sunderland, in contrast, included Anthony Stokes – who had played the last quarter of hour of the weekend defeat against Manchester City – and £2m striker Prica.
Sunderland dominated the early proceedings and created the first clear-cut chance when Prica glanced Graham Kavanagh’s corner over the bar to signal a period of early pressure from the visitors.
The Black Cats did breach Newcastle’s resistance after 28 minutes thanks to some neat work down the right-hand flank by Jordan Henderson, who squared for Prica to apply a close-range finish.
The former Aalborg striker, who has been told he can leave the Stadium of Light, almost notched a second but could not apply the finishing touch to Kavanagh’s wicked bending corner.
The advantage was doubled after 42 minutes when the busy Jack Colback’s low, rifled shot from 20 yards rebounded off the post and hit Forster before creeping over the line. United hit back within 60 seconds, when Ryan Donaldson fed Godsmark, who rolled the ball past Nick Colgan in the Sunderland goal.
The second half was a much more even affair in which new signing Ranger showed glimpses of invention as he settled into his game.
One terrific run on 65 minutes saw him glide past two Sunderland defenders before forcing an excellent save from Colgan. United continued to press and rattled the crossbar when Frank Danquah fired in a 20-yard shot, but they could not force an equaliser.
United reserve team manager Adam Sadler said: “I was disappointed with the first half – I know that we can play much better than that.
“It took a few stern words at half-time to up the work ethic, the attitude and the desire, but the lads responded well in the second half and they got a grip on the game. That was encouraging.”
NEWCASTLE UNITED RESERVES: Forster; Marwood, Tozer, Edgar, Ferguson; Godsmark, Doninger, Donaldson, Danquah; Ranger (Morris 89), Zamblera (Lough 66). Subs (not used): Morris, Soderberg, McLaughlin, Bath.
SUNDERLAND RESERVES: Colgan; Kay, McArdle, Hartley, Liddle; Henderson, Meyler (Cook 77), Kavanagh, Stokes; Prica, Colback. Subs (not used): Dowson, Wilson, Chandler, Madden.
Referee: Andrew Halliday.