KEVIN BALL’S reign as Sunderland’s new second string coach began with defeat after the Black Cats succumbed to a 3-2 loss at Southampton.
The Saints proved too strong in the opening fixture of the new Under-21s Premier League on the south coast, despite a brace from Sunderland hitman Jordan Laidler.
Sunderland didn’t field any of the three permitted over-age players, but Ball handed starts to Jordan Pickford, Blair Adams, former Pools loanee Ryan Noble and John Egan – all given first-team squad numbers by Martin O’Neill last week.
It was Southampton who took the lead though in the 12th minute when Sam Hoskins made himself a yard on the edge of the area and finished clinically.
Sunderland almost hit back immediately after Noble raced away down the left-hand channel and produced a cross which just evaded Craig Lynch in the middle.
Billy Knott saw a couple of efforts blocked and Laidler shot narrowly wide before Pickford was tested on the stroke of half-time when he tipped Tadanari Lee’s effort around the post.
Southampton were denied a second three minutes into the second half when Hoskins centred for Jake Sinclair whose shot was deflected over the top by a desperate last-gasp challenge from Egan.
Within a minute, Sunderland achieved parity at the other end when Laidler held off the attention of two defenders before firing a shot past Saints keeper Cody Cropper.
But Southampton restored their advantage in the 63rd minute when Calum Chambers headed home Ben Reeves’ corner.
The hosts made it 3-1 five minutes later when Hoskins latched onto Ryan Dickson’s pass and tucked the ball beyond Pickford.
Sunderland got themselves back in the game in the 74th minute when Louis Laing broke down the right and squared for Laidler to convert his second.
But Sunderland couldn’t muster an equaliser and it was Southampton who almost grabbed a late goal – Hoskins denied a hat-trick by a fine save from Pickford.
SOUTHAMPTON: Cropper, Butterfield, Stephens, Turnbull, Dickson, Chambers, Moore, Reeves, Sinclair (Curtis 76), Hoskins, Lee (McQueen 64). Subs not used: Johns, Young.
SUNDERLAND: Pickford, Laing, Egan, Ferguson (Joyce 89), Adams, Lynch, Oliver (Gorrin 70), Knott, Deacon (Mitchell 66), Noble, Laidler. Subs not used: Dixon, Callaghan.