By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
Sunderland Under-21s 2 (Wickham 19, Lynch 90+1)
Newcastle United Under-21s 2 (Ranger 8, Inman 35)
Nile Ranger scored in his first Newcastle appearance since March, but it wasn't enough to secure all three points against Sunderland under-21s at the Stadium of Light.
The returning 21-year-old's opener was cancelled out by Connor Wickham but Bradden Inman restored United's advantage before half-time. However, Craig Lynch's injury time goal meant the spoils were shared in a typically hard-fought Tyne-Wear derby clash.
Ranger's last run-out in a black and white shirt came against Chelsea Reserves eight months ago but he wasted no time in getting off the mark on his comeback from the injury which had sidelined him since the summer.
Willie Donachie and Peter Beardsley were forced into a late change as Lubo Satka was replaced in the starting line-up by Michael Riley, but that failed to disrupt the Magpies too much as they went ahead on eight minutes.
Inman's slide-rule pass was good but Ranger still had plenty to do; however his pace and strength was too much for James Armstrong and his finish was placed perfectly past Jordan Pickford.
Ranger's cross-cum-shot five minutes later almost crept in but drifted just wide of the far post before Sunderland's first chance came courtesy of a dubious decision from referee Gary Beswick, who felt Steven Logan had held back Adam Reed right on the edge of the penalty area.
However, David Ferguson's free-kick was blazed some way over the top - much to the delight of the Newcastle fans behind that goal.
Inman, United's leading scorer at this level, almost made it 2-0 when Marcus Maddison's cross from the right fell perfectly for him to strike but Pickford made a great parry and seconds later the sides were level.
Deacon's low ball in from the left was tucked away by Wickham, who slid in to convert from close range, and that spurred the hosts on as they fashioned two great opportunities straight afterwards.
First Lynch scooped just wide after riding a couple of challenges, then Ferguson's header hit his colleague Deacon on the line and stayed out.
Ranger was involved at the other end as his perseverance allowed Inman to poke the ball to Yven Moyo, whose shot went horribly wide although he was flagged offside anyway.
Then Ranger headed wide from Mehdi Abeid's cross as he continued to outmuscle the Sunderland defence and just after the half-hour mark, Maddison's left-wing corner caused havoc and after Ranger missed the ball, Curtis Good's low shot was somehow kept out by ex-Darlington keeper Pickford.
But he could do nothing to keep out Inman's strike on 35 minutes as Abeid's shot was only half-cleared for the Aussie ace to drive the ball home from the edge of the area.
Substitute defender Scott Harrison fired horribly over for the Black Cats after Deacon's delivery fell to him 25 yards out, then Newton made a superb block to thwart Wickham on the stroke of half-time.
Wickham again came close three minutes after the break when his looping header dropped just wide with Alnwick rooted to the spot. Then just after the hour mark, Reed sent a long-range effort narrowly over.
But Newcastle could have had a third when Ranger teed up Maddison, whose placed shot curled high and wide of the target.
If that was a good opportunity, however, it paled into insignificance compared to the one which fell Reed's way when Newton was adjudged to have shoved Wickham in the box in the 69th minute. The Black Cats skipper sent Alnwick the wrong way but his penalty hit the post.
Ranger made way for Dennis Knight a minute later while Brandon Miele replaced Maddison but Sunderland again came close when Wickham's low cross found Lynch, whose effort was well saved by Alnwick before Ferguson sent a header too high.
Wickham curled wide for the hosts before Moyo cut inside for the visitors and forced Pickford into a save. Then, with time running out, Wickham turned but his shot was too powerful and too high.
Abeid's clever pass almost set up JJ Hooper, who was denied by a good block from Pickford, while Steven Logan's vital defensive header at the other end proved vital with six minutes left.
But in the first minute of stoppage time, Riley lost possession and Lynch ran forward and finished well to ensure that both derbies at this level ended 2-2 this season.
Sunderland Under-21s: Jordan Pickford, Liam Marrs, David Ferguson, David Vaughan, Connor Oliver, James Armstrong (Scott Harrison 18), Alex Gorrin (Jordan Laidler 73), Adam Reed (c), Connor Wickham (Mikael Mandron 84), Craig Lynch, Roarie Deacon
Subs not used: Ben Wilson, Wade Joyce
Newcastle United Under-21s: Jak Alnwick, Steven Logan, Michael Riley, Curtis Good (c), Yven Moyo, Conor Newton, Mehdi Abeid, Bradden Inman, Marcus Maddison (Brandon Miele 70), Nile Ranger (Dennis Knight 70), JJ Hooper
Subs not used: Freddie Woodman, Alex Kitchen
Referee: Gary Beswick