Graeme Murty shared his pride in Sunderland's under-21s despite their defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the final of the Premier League 2 campaign but has challenged his young players to use this disappointment as 'fuel' in order to improve next season.

Murty watched on as his team came up narrowly short against a Tottenham team spearheaded by the impressive Will Lankshear who scored twice to dent Sunderland's hopes of clinching Premier League 2 glory after what has been a hugely encouraging campaign at the Academy of Light.

Sunderland defied the odds to reach the play-off final in North London with a trio of comeback victories in the knockout stages against Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Ham United and Reading before facing their biggest test yet against the league winners at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. 

Spurs had already beaten Murty's side twice this season across league and cup, with Lankshear on the scoresheet at Eppleton Colliery, and they completed a hat-trick over Sunderland thanks to Lankshear's 31st and 32nd goals of the campaign and captain George Abbott's late strike. 

Lankshear, a significant youth signing from Sheffield United in 2022, opened the scoring five minutes before the interval after Sunderland had created the better openings of an entertaining first half in North London. The 19-year-old was on hand to convert from Jude Soonsup-Bell's low cross before Harrison Jones came within the width of the post of equalising almost from the restart with goalkeeper Luca Gunter rooted.

Sunderland continued in the ascendancy after the restart with Tom Watson also being denied by the post before Lankshear doubled his and Spurs' lead on the hour with a clinical finish inside the penalty area.

Sunderland's exertions of previous weeks in the play-offs began to catch up with Murty's team as Tottenham were finally able to gain some initiative, with captain Abbott giving a harsh look to the scoreline when adding a third in stoppage time after Adam Richardson had denied his initial effort. 

But Sunderland got some reward for their endeavour when Timur Tuterov grabbed a consolation after he turned in Watson's rebound with the final kick of the game with Spurs being crowned champions. 

But Murty was keen to ensure his players look on the season with pride, having more than played their part at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and throughout the campaign after a seventh-placed finish and then use this defeat as motivation to come back stronger.

"I didn’t think 3-1 reflected the game," said Murty. "I didn’t think they were that much better than us. As I’ve said to the players, we stated at the start of the game the team that was most ruthless would win the game and I think it turned out that way, but I thought my lads deserved more.

"For all of our play and all of our chances we created, we weren’t as ruthless as they were. We credit them. They are a really, really good side but we have pushed them to the wire every time we’ve played them."

Murty added: "There are regrets we weren’t clinical enough. There are regrets that we lost the game. But in terms of their approach to the game, I personally see a brave, engaged, bright team that represent our values as a football club in terms of playing the game the way we want to.

"I can’t be prouder of them. I just hoped for them that they would manage to get it over the line, and they didn’t. It’s horrible for them.

"But if they never want to feel that way again, they can bank this feeling and when it’s difficult, on a snowy day up at Cleadon, and you are truly considering whether you want to go out and do that extra little bit of work, hopefully they think back to this time where we didn’t quite get it done and that is a fuel for them because I know as a player previously, disappointment is probably the best fuel I ever had."