Chris Young: Sunderland youngsters didn't look out of place at Premier League level
If Sunderland had been in a healthier league position, freed from the Â£100million worry of relegation, the club's crop of young talent would have been blooded far sooner this season.
With former Under-21 coaching team Robbie Stockdale and Paul Bracewell as Sam Allardyce's right-hand men, they have understandably been encouraging the virtues of the academy products and there have been a stream of them training with the first-team for months.
Vicarage Road Premier League debutants Rees Greenwood, Tommy Robson and George Honeyman have all been at the forefront of the queue to be blooded into competitive action, along with Under-18s frontman Josh Maja, who travelled with the squad to Hertfordshire.
None of the trio looked out of place on their top flight bows, particularly Greenwood and Robson, who were handed their chance in the starting XI.
There were a couple of flashes of Greenwood's ability which has caught the eye so frequently at Under-21 level and he produced a perfectly-weighted through-ball in the build-up to Jack Rodwell's opener.
But it was Robson who quietly stood-out among the young guns. It was just what you want from a debutant full-back; keeping it simple, playing his way into the game and defending efficiently and effectively.
If it hadn't been for the linesmen ruling out two goals for offside - when both looked to be level - and bogeyman referee Kevin Friend awarding a debatable penalty, Sunderland's youngsters would have been playing their part in a final day win.
The result, of course, held little sway after Sunderland did the job against Everton four days earlier. There was understandably a party atmosphere in the away end among the 2,000 travelling supporters, who went through their rendition of anti-Newcastle ditties.
Yet for Sunderland to avoid defeat, at least, means Allardyce's men have tasted just one loss in the final 11 games.
As Sunderland look to end the cycle of annual relegation battles, that's a statistic which bodes well.