Sunderland 3 Everton 2: Swedish pair get valuable minutes, as Rees Greenwood shines
Sunderland's fringe first-teamers are going to require every possible opportunity to maintain their fitness over the next three-and-a-half weeks, with one measly competitive encounter.
For the likes of Seb Larsson, in particular - back in the fold after three months on the treatment table - outings for the Under-21s could be pivotal towards their hopes of making a first-team impact.
Larsson was the most subdued of the three members of Sam Allardyce's squad involved in the 3-2 win against Everton, with Ola Toivonen the pick of the bunch after he offered a regular goal threat and netted a brace with a pair of smart finishes.
But it was U21 Premier League Player of the Month Rees Greenwood, who particularly caught the eye in front of the BT Sport cameras at the Stadium of Light after the winger had a hand in all three goals.
Too often, Greenwood's ability to ghost past defenders is let down by his end product.
Yet that wasn't the case for the 20-year-old against the Toffees as he consistently tormented the visiting defence and produced some better precision with his final pass or cross.
It was Greenwood's 19th minute corner which provided the opener for Sunderland, as Toivonen - who had headed against the bar from a Tommy Robson cross moments earlier - broke the deadlock.
Toivonen's initial volley was blocked in the Everton goalmouth, but he reacted quickly to head the rebound into the top corner.
A second arrived two minutes later - again from a Greenwood corner - after Everton failed to deal with Toivonen's run to the back-post.
Brendan Galloway just got enough of a block on the ball to prevent Toivonen scoring, but Tom Beadling was on hand to stab it home from six yards out.
Everton should have pulled one back immediately after Courtney Duffus went clean through on goal and rounded Jordan Pickford, yet with the goal at his mercy, he somehow managed to fire into the side netting.
Greenwood was Everton's chief tormentor and he ghosted to the left-hand by-line in the 34th minute before pulling it back to Mikael Mandron, who smashed a half-volley against the bar.
But Sunderland eased off in the final 10 minutes of the first half and on the stroke of the interval, Everton halved the deficit when the Black Cats defence was completely deceived by Harry Charsley's deflected left wing cross and the ball bounced off Tommy Robson before rolling into the net.
Everton began the second half where they had left off and were denied an equaliser within 90 seconds of the restart by the woodwork.
Charsley delivered an inviting right wing cross which was met with a thumping volley from Kieran Dowell, but it crashed back off the post.
Sunderland had another near-miss in the 68th minute when Pickford spilt a deep left wing cross, but Beadling was back on the line to clear Leandro Rodriguez's shot.
Everton were made to pay for that miss five minutes later as Sunderland restored their two-goal advantage after a superb counter-attack.
Pickford kicked the ball out with pinpoint accuracy to Greenwood on the left, who controlled the ball immaculately and carried it to the edge of the area.
Greenwood threaded the ball through to Toivonen, to the left of goal, who calmly curled a shot into the far corner.
Everton weren't finished though, with Dowell curling in an excellent free-kick from 25 yards into the top corner with five minutes to go.
Sunderland hung on during the final few minutes, despite Everton causing several scares with their delivery from out wide.
Sunderland: Pickford, J Robson, T Robson, Agnew, Brady, Beadling, Greenwood, Larsson, Mandron, Toivonen (Smith 79), Honeyman (Lawson 65). Subs not used: Talbot, E Robson, McEvoy.
Everton: Griffiths, Mattioni (Evans 90), Galloway, Davies, Pennington, Holgate, Dowell (Jones 60), Williams, Duffus, Rodriguez (Dyson 81), Charsley. Subs not used: Hewelt, Foulds.