Derby County’s Under-23s began the new calendar year with a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Sunderland at the Eppleton Colliery Welfare Ground in the Premier League 2 Division 1.
Luke Thomas’ second half strike was not enough to cancel out two goals from Daniel Wright either side of half time.
Result aside, a big positive from the game saw senior trio Darren Bent, Jason Shackell and Ikechi Anya, all play 90 minutes.
Before Thomas, who was part of the first team squad that travelled to Old Trafford on Friday evening, opened his account, Sven Karic, the Slovenian defender, came close to putting Derby ahead after just two minutes with a free kick that whistled just over the crossbar.
In a game of few chances, however, Sunderland took the lead after 34 minutes when Wright dispossessed Rams goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell and slotted home from close-range.
Mitchell put his mistake behind him three minutes later, producing a fine save to deny Alex Storey’s header to keep the scoreline to 1-0 heading into the interval.
Luke Thomas almost levelled the match early into the second half; he went on a mazy run, leaving several defenders in his tracks and fired his effort on target, forcing a good save from Sunderland goalkeeper Michael Woud.
From the resulting corner, Darren Bent had a golden chance to make it 1-1 after being picked out at the back post by Karic’s corner, but the former England international was unable to convert the cross.
The hosts then doubled their lead, again through Wright. Rees Greenwood’s cross was not cleared by Mitchell or Ethan Wassall, leaving Wright with an empty net to poke the ball in and get his second of the match.
Sunderland almost made it three just after the hour mark, but Elliot Embleton’s curling effort from outside of the penalty area was denied by the crossbar.
Derby substitute Offrande Zanzala added a lot of energy into the attack when he came on at half time. His low pass from the right found Bent, who was unable to get his shot on target.
Darren Wassall’s side’s continued efforts paid off late in the second half with Thomas pulling a goal back for Derby. His low shot from outside of the penalty area deflected past goalkeeper Woud, but it proved to be in vain as the Black Cats held out to claim their first win in six matches.
Sunderland U23s: Woud; Taylor, Beadling, Storey; Gamble, Wright, Embleton, Brotherton, Robson; Greenwood, Allan
Substitutes not used: Edmundson, Talbot, Yves Poame, Slack
Derby County U23s: Mitchell, Wassall, Shackell, Karic (Jakobsen, 79); Bogle, Stabana, Babos, Anya; Thomas; Bent, Walker (Zanzala 46)
Substitutes not used: Barnes, Cover, Taylor
Wright's second goal just after half-time gave the Rams a huge mountain to climb heading into the final 40 minutes of the contest.
It left with the Rams with a lot to do in their first fixture of 2018 and despite Thomas managing to find the back of the net, time was always against them.
Midfielder Luke Thomas was the Rams’ main attacking threat throughout the match.
The 18-year-old played in the ‘number 10’ role against the Black Cats and went on a number of dribbles that drew fouls and created goalscoring opportunities which included Brandon Taylor, who was cautioned midway through the first half for a late challenge on Thomas; as well as scoring the visitors’ only goal.
The defeat keeps Derby in seventh position in the Premier League 2 Division 1 table, whilst Sunderland move out of the relegation zone and up to tenth.
The Rams are next in league action on Monday 15th January, where they will host Swansea City at St George’s Park.
Derby will then face Birmingham City in the Premier League Cup on Monday 22nd January, again at St George’s Park.