A late second-half penalty from Martin Smith was enough to send Sunderland Under-21’s through to the next round of the Premier League International Cup with a narrow 2-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao Under-21’s. .
The game started off slow with two half chances from the visitors early on, but it kicked into life ten minutes from the break with a great chance for Patrick van Aanholt before Danny Graham opened the scoring, with Gorka Guruzeta Rodriguez cancelling it out just before half-time.
Ethan Robson and Jon Iruarrizaga Arteche had half chances at the beginning of the second period, but it was Inigo Pradera Belar and Graham who had the best chances though neither could convert until Smith slotted home with seven minutes to go to secure the win.
It was Bilbao who had the opening chance of the contest three minutes in when an attempted clearance from a free-kick fell to Julen Arellano Sandua but his effort fizzed over the crossbar.
The visitors continued to have more of the opportunities in front of goal and had another in the 14th minute when Belar tried to beat Maksymilian Stryjek with a header, but it floated onto the roof of the net.
Sunderland had the best opportunity of the match 12 minutes before the end when Van Aanholt’s free kick had to be parried at the bottom corner by Unai Simon Mendibil which was set upon by Graham but could only put it across the face of goal.
He redeemed himself two minutes later when he gave Sunderland the lead though. The ball was played into the striker who managed to peel off his defender before unleashing a furious volley into the net.
He almost got as second moments later when he was played in by Smith, but this time his effort was tame and straight into the arms of Unai Simón Mendibil.
Sunderland only had the lead for nine minutes before their Spanish counterparts equalised.
It was poor defending that caused it, much like their senior side have shown this season, as an opponents was allowed to pull away from his marker before a playing a simple low ball across the box into Rodriguez who had easy job of placing it home.
Chances come for both in second half
Both sides had good opportunities just moments after coming back out for the second period, and it was Sunderland first when Robson blasted an effort at goal after his first was blocked, but it was wide of the left post.
Bilbao came closer in the 53rd minute when Arteche’s set piece looked to be troubling Stryjek, but went wide of the post.
Both sides pushed for a winning goal going into the final 20 minutes of the match, Bilbao first up to threaten as Belar attempted a curling effort on the edge of the area which forced Stryjek to tip it over.
It was Graham again with the chance for Sunderland, on the other hand, when Robson played an excellent cross-field ball to the former Swansea City striker, and he managed to force another decent save from Mendibil.
He was through again in the 80th minute as he picked up the long ball and attempted to chip Mendibil but it was just over the target.
Smith wins it
It looked destined for a draw as the clock ticked over the 80 minute mark, but Sunderland were handed the opportunity to take the win when van Aanholt was brought down in the area.
Smith stepped up to take the penalty and he managed to coolly send the keeper the wrong way as he nestled the effort down the middle of the goal.
They thought they had a third when Mikael Mandron played into Graham who then played it across to Van Aanholt to fire home, the flag was up on the far side for offside to disallow it.
There was one more opportunity for Graham in extra-time when he was played in by Van Aanholt but he saw his shot parried away, the final score reading 2-1 to the young Black Cats.