Sunderland Under-23s deserved Trophy victory against Notts County, insists coach Robbie Stockdale
The Black Cats were trailing 1-0 until the 84th minute and heading out of the Checkatrade Trophy until a late rally saw Sunderland through.
The Under-23 side – boosted by five first-teamers including Seb Larsson and Vito Mannone – levelled through sub Josh Maja before a 90th-minute Haydn Hollis own goal sealed victory in the final group game.
“I think we deserved to go through on the night,” said Stockdale.
“They were a constant threat with Alan Smith up top, and our two young centre-backs were great against someone who’s strong and physical.
“That’s something that you can’t replicate in training and development squad games, so, from our point of view, it’s a fantastic experience.
“It felt a bit like a knockout game. I know we could have gone through with the draw.
“But when you’re 1-0 down with 10 minutes to go, or whatever it was, it feels like a knockout and the players were experienced enough to do what they needed to do.
“They got over the line in the end. I don’t really doubt the character of the players in the academy. It’s one thing we instil in the players, you just keep going and I think you see that from all of the teams I’ve had.
“It’s not so much what we put into them, that’s the players job.
“But, ultimately, at 1-0 if we go 2-0 down, that’s really difficult to claw back. We rode our luck, Vito [Mannone] made a couple of important saves for us and ultimately two bits of quality win us the game.”
Two subs made by Stockdale turned the game in Sunderland’s favour, Maja on for Joel Asoro and Luke Molyneux for Joshua Robson in an attacking move.
Both were positive, with Molyneux providing the assist for Maja’s equaliser.
Stockdale added: “The players who were on the bench were unlucky not to start – they are all good players.
“Josh took his goal really well. There are some parts of his game he needs to improve and he was caught offside on a couple of occasions when he shouldn’t have been.
“But that is all part of the learning curve and Luke came on and was positive too.
“That is all you ask about the players you bring on.”