Sunderland Under-21s ended their PL2 home campaign with a 3-1 victory over promotion-pushing Nottingham Forest to claim all three points in front of a vibrant Eppleton crowd.
An early Tommy Watson goal put us ahead, Oil Hammond equalised for Forest before two stunning second-half strikes from Ellis Taylor and Ben Middlemas earned the young Black Cats a deserved victory.
Dennis Cirkin and Joe Anderson both secured 90 minutes under their belts for Graeme Murty’s side, as they maintain match sharpness for the first-team run-in.
The hosts opened the scoring on 10 minutes with a well-taken move, as Watson collected Marshall Burke’s lofted ball over the Forest defence before cutting inside and firing low and hard past Aaron Butt.
Sunderland came close to doubling their lead a few minutes later but Taylor somehow fired wide from six yards out.
Forest levelled against the run of play when Hammond latched onto a loose ball after a lapse of concentration in the Sunderland defence and calmly slotted into Daniel Cameron’s bottom right-hand corner.
Cameron was called into action five minutes later, pulling off a trio of saves in quick succession. Firstly, denying Esapa Osong from the edge of the box before pushing Hammond’s drilled effort wide for a corner.
The resulting corner was met by the head of Jamie McDonnell, the defender’s looping header was on target, but Cameron confidently commanded his area to deny the visitors again.
The Black Cats continued to push forward in the closing stages of the first half, Harry Gardiner’s close-range shot and Taylor’s long-range attempt both failing to trouble Bott.
Sunderland started the second half on the front foot coming within inches of retaking the lead, Caden Kelly manoeuvred space on the edge of the box but dragged his shot agonisingly wide of Bott’s far post.
Taylor deservedly restored the host’s lead on 64 minutes with a superb volley from 12 yards out after the visitors failed to clear their lines in the build-up.
Murty’s side ramped up the pressure and notched their third goal of the evening on 83 minutes when Middlemas found Bott’s bottom right-hand corner with a speculative strike from 25 yards out.
Forest desperately tried to get themselves back into the match, but Sunderland remained resilient to see out the final few minutes and end the visitor’s 16-game unbeaten league run.
The young Lads end the league season in a fortnight’s time, taking on West Bromwich Albion at Hednesford’s Keys Park.
SAFC U21: Cameron, Crompton, Johnson, Anderson, Cirkin, Burke, Kelly, Taylor ©, Middlemas, Watson, Gardiner.
Subs not used: Metcalf, Wilson, Scott, Jessup.
Nottingham Forest U21: Bott, Abbott, Powell, Collins, Hammond, McDonnell, Perkins (Gardiner 74’), McAdam (Perry 74’), Osong, Hammond ©, Larsson (Gibson-Hammond 74’)
Subs not used: Hammond, Thompson.