Match report: Doncaster Rovers 1 Sunderland U21s 0

Issam Ben Khemis
Issam Ben Khemis

Doncaster Rovers’ young guns provided just the lift that the club needed by beating Sunderland Under-21s in the Checkatrade Trophy.

The 1-0 victory, played in front of just 1,520 at the Keepmoat Stadium, will certainly not live long in the memory for most in attendance.

Sunderland's Brendan Galloway in action at the Keepmoat Stadium

Sunderland's Brendan Galloway in action at the Keepmoat Stadium

But it will for Issam Ben Khemis, who stroked home a superb first goal in English football midway through the second half.

And it certainly will for the five young prospects who were handed their senior debuts by manager Darren Ferguson - and who were all on the pitch when Rovers scored the decisive goal.

Midfielder Jacob Fletcher, a composed left-footed midfielder, was the most eye-catching of the quintet.

Tyler Walker also did little wrong in a right wing back role, while James Morris, Morgan James and Cody Prior all came on to cap a memorable night for the club’s academy.

In such a low key atmosphere, the game rarely got out of second gear and a Sunderland side including Jack Rodwell and on-loan Everton defender Brendan Galloway flattered to deceive.

But Ferguson could rightly be pleased with how his young team acquitted themselves and showed maturity beyond their years during the final quarter of the game - earning Rovers a victory that should lift spirits on the training ground following a run of six defeats in the previous seven games.

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Ferguson made eight changes from the side beaten at Bradford City on Saturday with only Marko Marosi, Harry Toffolo and Niall Mason retaining their starting spot.

Fletcher, 17, and Walker, 18, were handed full debuts and helped bring the average age of the starting eleven down to just 21 years and eight months.

Fletcher’s confident start was the highlight of an otherwise drab opening half.

Toffolo went closest to breaking the deadlock when his curling free-kick from just outside the area went narrowly over the bar.

But it was Fletcher who produced the most memorable moment from open play when he intercepted the ball in Sunderland territory and fired a decent effort straight down the throat of Mika.

As the game continued in a tit-for-tat nature, with neither side showing any sign of taking it by the scruff of the neck, the visitors struggled to mount any threat. Their only effort on goal had come from Donald Love’s wild volleyed attempt which threatened only the sparse crowd sat in the South Stand.

The clearest opening came just after the 30 minute mark when Tyler Garratt fed the ball neatly into Andy Williams who turned nicely on the angle of the box but curled his effort wide of the far post.

At the other end Marosi was kept honest when he had to make a smart save to keep out Ethan Robson’s whipped in free-kick from the right.

And from another free-kick, just prior to the referee bringing to an end a wholly forgettable 45 minutes, Liam Mandeville came within inches of curling home from 25 yards only to see his effort hit the bar.

Morris became the latest debutant upon the re-start, replacing Williams.

Sunderland eventually showed some incisiveness on 55 minutes when a slick move ended in Robson drilling across the face of goal.

The young Black Cats now carried more threat but they were nearly caught out around the hour mark. Morris tested Mika from distance before Fletcher shot narrowly wide.

A moment of quality was required to break the deadlock and it came on 70 minutes from Ben Khemis who found himself in space in a central area and expertly curled home from 25 yards.

His finish and subsequent celebratory dance, performed in front of the onlooking first team squad, was arguably worth the admission fee alone - and also put a much-needed smile on Rovers faces ahead of more pressing matters - starting with Southend United at home on Saturday.

*Rovers: Marosi, Walker, Alcock, Fielding, Garratt, Toffolo (James 63), Mason (Prior 63), Fletcher, Ben Khemis, Mandeville, Williams (Morris 46). Subs not used: Jones, Townrow.

*Sunderland: Mika, Love, Beadling, Rodwell, Galloway, Hume (Bale 46), Gamble (Diamond 79) Robson, Greenwood, Molyneux, Nelson. Subs not used: Robson, Talbot, Taylor, Storey, Allan.

*Referee: Ross Joyce

*Attendance: 1,520