THERE was a stronger police presence than has become normal, with thousands of away supporters being channelled in a certain direction from the team coaches and St Peter’s Metro station, and more than a hint of derby day on Wearside given the nature of the chants exchanged between fans.

Even if the teamsheets told a different story. Gone are the days of Shearer and Phillips, or even Coloccini and O’Shea, so this was a night for something entirely different.

By even Jack Ross’ admission beforehand, the sheer fact his senior team had to face Newcastle United’s Under-21s was a result of Sunderland’s failings in recent years. And it’s impossible to disagree.

Even though Ross made six changes to the team that drew at Charlton on Saturday in League One, this was still a Black Cats team that possessed enough within the ranks to eventually beat a team boasting just one substitute senior appearance among the match-day squad.

Callum Roberts was perceived to be one of the Magpies’ next rising starts not too long ago, but the only time he has appeared on the big stage was under Carver when Leicester won at the King Power pre-Rafa Benitez.

This should, then, have been a routine night for Sunderland, and that is how it proved, even if it took until after half-time for things to work out as expected.

Two goals inside three minutes at the start of the second half - an own goal from the unfortunate Kelland Watts and a header from Charlie Wyke – finally did the damage to end the Newcastle hopes of springing a huge surprise. Chris Maguire's strike on 78 minutes and the late header from Benjamin Kimpioka did the rest.

Those of a Sunderland persuasion are likely to consider that such a game should never even have taken place. Try telling that to the 2,780 supporters who had made their way over to Wearside hoping to see embarrassment heaped on their old foes.

And the reality is that this was in the rule book. When the Football League first invited teams from the Premier League to take part in this competition in 2016-17, it was designed with an intention to hand the country’s leading young footballers a taste of the first team stage.

There has been significant criticism of the format ever since, including how there is a group stage that hasn’t caught the imagination of fans. This was one night that did catch the eye.

That is why the press box was busier than normal, with the away end noisy from start to finish and the Sunderland supporters still turned up in decent numbers to witness a game against an under-21s team.

Was it beneficial to Newcastle’s youngsters? Undoubtedly. This was the biggest game any, barring for the 11 minutes Roberts got at Leicester four years ago, of the inexperienced Magpies have encountered. They will take that forward with them.

In that sense the Football League and Premier League’s decision a few years back was justified. The spotlight, certainly from within the North-East, has never been greater on a Checkatrade Trophy game.

And this Newcastle team captained by Owen Bailey, backed up by his teenage team-mates and one or two older, got to impress in front of a vociferous, passionate crowd in excess of 16,500 that will stand them in good stead for the future.

They would never have got that from facing any other team in the competition this season, unless they had gone all the way. In fact, many of them may never get to play in front of such a big crowd ever again over the course of their careers.

There was talent on show too. Not only did Bailey and the unfortunate Watts do well to ensure Newcastle retained an organised approach to withstand Sunderland’s early domination of possession, they had periods where they passed the ball around with Matthew Longstaff and Mohammed Sangare moving things around smoothly in midfield.

Striker Elias Sorensen might not have seen much of the ball in attack, but there were a few scares for the home defence. Roberts, on two occasions, showed his quality to cause panic in the Sunderland area.

What about the benefits for Sunderland? That’s more difficult, other than to suggest they were able to preserve local pride by avoiding the humiliation a defeat to kids … after a day on social media where fans on Tyneside had mocked up amusing posts.

Having survived a potential slip-up that is likely to have been remembered between the two clubs for as long as Sunderland’s current seven-match (six wins) unbeaten run at senior level, Ross’ crop of 2019 can at least take satisfaction in the professionalism they had to show to avoid it.

It might have been looked on as something of a nuisance fixture inside the bowels of the Stadium of Light and yet, in the end, it was job done. Sunderland, without playing particularly confidently for half the match, are sitting two wins from Wembley.

And, on another front, that means owner Stewart Donald can start to think of another possibility: a further cash injection.

While it is a far cry from the riches of the Premier League, both clubs had already netted £65,000 by setting up this tie. There will be a further £40,000 for reaching the quarter-final and the winners overall will receive £100,000. The runners-up will be handed £50,000.

It might not be a massive sum in the world of modern-day football, but certainly not to be sniffed at either for a club of a League One standing.

Newcastle’s youngsters may remember this occasion forever after getting over their second half frustration, but after navigating a fixture that many Sunderland employees may have looked on with some disdain, the prospect of a Wembley trip at the end of March has grown even stronger.