IT might have been Bonfire Night, but let’s be honest, with this being the group stage of the Leasing-com Trophy, there were never going to be fireworks. Nevertheless, Sunderland’s lack of sparkle was still surprising as they crashed to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Leicester City Under-21s.

Leading through Chris Maguire’s early free-kick, the Black Cats looked to be heading for the win that would have guaranteed their progress to the knockout rounds of the EFL Trophy with a game to spare. Instead, they will head to Scunthorpe United next Tuesday needing a win of some description to keep their hopes of another trip to Wembley alive.

Do Sunderland want another protracted run in this competition? Arguably not. But Phil Parkinson will hardly have been happy at the sight of a Black Cats side boasting plenty of senior experience struggling to match a Leicester line-up comprised of kids. Any fears he had about a lack of squad depth will hardly have been allayed, with the likes of Grant Leadbitter, Dylan McGeouch and Marc McNulty failing to enhance their prospects of a regular starting spot. This was a night when the only reputations enhanced were those belonging to the players who were absent from the team.

Leicester’s second-half goals from George Hirst and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall were fully deserved, and if anything, the visitors should have added to their advantage late on. Sunderland lacked energy, enthusiasm and ideas, which hardly augurs well for Saturday’s FA Cup outing, let alone next week’s Trophy group decider.

Parkinson went for experience last night but was left disappointed. Perhaps, in the next two games, he will turn to youth.

He will be reluctant to put too much faith in Benji Kimpioka though, with the teenager having failed to impress last night as he made his first senior start since last season’s Checkatrade quarter-final against Manchester City Under-21s. The 19-year-old remains locked in a contract wrangle that could yet see him move on in January, but this was his chance to persuade Parkinson he is worth persevering with. Suffice to say, he didn’t take it.

Admittedly, he wasn’t playing as a central striker - Marc McNulty spent most of the night filling that role – but he was sloppy in possession and wasteful whenever he got anywhere near the 18-yard box. On this evidence, he is a long way off being ready for the first team.

His best chance of the night came to nothing early on when he looped a tame header straight at Leicester goalkeeper Tobias Viktor Johansson, but by that stage, Sunderland were already ahead.

Maguire earned the 14th-minute free-kick that resulted in the breakthrough, surging across the face of the penalty area to draw a foul from Darnell Johnson, and converted it himself, curling an excellent 20-yard finish over the wall and into the top left-hand corner. It was a near-identical strike to the one that also resulted in a goal against Tranmere Rovers last month, and confirmed Maguire’s specialism at set-pieces.

It should have paved the way for a simple night, but despite boasting Leadbitter alongside McGeouch at the heart of the midfield, the hosts never really exerted their authority in the manner that might have been expected.

They were the better side before the break, with Duncan Watmore’s surging runs down the left offering a sporadic threat, but most of their moves broke down long before they were able to threaten Leicester’s 18-yard box.

As a result, the visitors, who boasted Croatia international Filip Benkovic in their starting line-up as well as Wales youth international Mitch Clark, were able to grow in confidence.

Hirst narrowly failed to connect with Callum Wright’s eighth-minute flick-on, and with Sunderland lacking cohesion or urgency, George Thomas fired a long-range free-kick straight at Jon McLaughlin.

It was turning into a difficult night for the hosts, and things became even more problematic eight minutes before the interval when the returning Alim Ozturk pulled up sharply on the edge of his own area before hobbling off the field. The Turkish centre-half has been absent for almost two months through injury, but his issues do not appear to have been resolved.

At least the Black Cats were still ahead at the break, although their advantage was not to last much longer. Leicester’s youngsters equalised five minutes into the second half, and were ahead just three minutes later.

Their leveller came from the penalty spot, with Hirst, son of former Sheffield Wednesday striker, David, confidently converting after Conor McLaughlin was penalised for bundling over Callum Wright as he raced on to Calvin Ughelumba’s through ball.

McLaughlin was too hasty in his attempts to block off his opponent, but Sunderland’s defenders were guilty of standing off the opposition as Leicester scored their winner. Dewsbury-Hall danced his way into the 18-yard box before unleashing a howitzer of a shot that flew past Jon McLaughlin into the top corner of the net.

Sunderland’s best chance of an equaliser came in stoppage time, but while Leadbitter met McNulty’s cross at the back post, his shot bounced wastefully over the crossbar.