AMONG a first-team quartet included for Sunderland Under-21s last night, only Keiren Westwood could be classified as an unfeasible inclusion for this weekend’s crunch encounter against Norwich.
A fourth Premier League defeat in six last Saturday has put places up for grabs for a game where Sunderland can ill-afford to register anything less than three points.
For Phil Bardsley, Kader Mangane and David Vaughan, a bitterly cold evening at the Stadium of Light was an chance to prove they offer solutions towards Sunderland’s increasingly alarming winless run.
But there was little in terms of genuine conclusions from a 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough.
Bardsley and Mangane strolled through the game, the latter barely breaking into a sweat. Until he is tested against better opposition, no real judgement can be made on the on-loan 29-year-old.
At least Bardsley attempted to up the tempo with a couple of promising bursts during a first half where clear-cut chances were non-existent.
After the bare minimum of noteworthy action, it took just 20 seconds of the second half for Sunderland to go ahead.
the visitors failed to deal with a Jordan Laidler cross from the right, and Mikael Mandron managed to lift the ball over outrushing goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler before Ryan Noble made sure from a yard out by tapping it into an empty net.
Boro began to enjoy a sustained spell of possession from the hour-mark, and they eventually drew level in the 74th minute, albeit with a hint of offside.
Winger Adam Reach played a ball from halfway in behind the Sunderland back four for substitute Bradley Fewster, with the linesman’s flag debatably remaining down.
There was no doubting Fewster’s finish though, as he descended on Westwood from the right and lifted the ball delicately into the far corner.