The 18-year-old has scored five goals in two FA Youth Cup games at the Lamex Stadium already this season and he wasted no time in carrying that form on into the Premier League 2, robbing goalkeeper Max Stryjek at the edge of his own area and firing home just five minutes into his first appearance of the season for Ugo Ehiogu's side.
Pau Lopez had one important save to make later in the first half but we looked assured on the ball and, in spite of a scrappy last quarter-of-an-hour, deserved the three points, which elevate us up to seventh amid a congested lower half of the table, with several teams battling to move away from the drop zone.
Sterling, who has played and scored at this level in the past, was joined in the starting line-up by fellow Under-18s regulars Japhet Tanganga and Nick Tsaroulla – both deservedly getting their opportunities after positive seasons so far. It was centre-half Tanganga's first league start for Ehiogu's team and left-back Tsaroulla's debut. Younger still, Under-16s midfielder Oliver Skipp, who has also shone for the Under-18s this term, was introduced off the bench late on.
With so much youth around him, centre-half Christian Maghoma had to be both dominant and shrewd in his defending and he was just that, with Filip Lesniak adding a useful shield in front of the back four.
The attacking players all looked a threat, although there was a lack of real clear-cut opportunities to add to our lead, Sterling going closest with a shot blocked by the keeper before later finding the side netting.
GOAL: SPURS 1-0 SUNDERLAND - KAZAIAH STERLING - 5mins
Sterling, on the left side of a three-pronged attack along with Shilow Tracey and Shayon Harrison – eligible to play under the terms of his loan at League Two Yeovil – was a willing runner from the off and immediately sniffed out an opportunity when Stryjek came to meet Maghoma's clearance at the edge of his own area five minutes in, racing towards him, twisting and turning and forcing the keeper into a mistake, duly tackling him and prodding into the empty net from 18 yards out.
SAVE: PAU LOPEZ BRILLIANCE PREVENTS EQUALISER - 24mins
Joe Pritchard motored into the box and tested Stryjek midway through the half but it was Pau Lopez who produced a fine save at the other end to prevent a leveller. Rees Greenwood's ball in from the left eventually fell for Joel Asoro to put his laces through it from eight yards and although Tanganga dived in and got something on the ball, it needed the Spanish stopper to fling out his left arm while diving to his right to claw it away.
Above: Joy for Kazaiah Sterling after his early goal.
WOODWORK: PRITCHARD DENIED BY THE CROSSBAR - 33mins
Pritchard was tenacious in his attacking and after Tsaroulla was hauled down by Josh Robson 20 yards out, the midfielder bent a right-footed free-kick over the wall but it struck the crossbar and flew over the top. Joe Muscatt, forward from right-back, blasted just wide shortly before the break as we continued to hassle the opponents in their own half.
WOODWORK: SUNDERLAND CLOSE TO A LEVELLER - 53mins
We continued on the front foot after the break but Sunderland were always a threat on the break and when Asoro burst onto a loose ball and pulled the trigger, his effort cannoned off the foot of the post, across goal and away to safety. That was the closest the Black Cats went while the odd half-chance fell to Sterling and the speedy Tracey, but Stryjek wasn't to be beaten again. Substitute Charlie Owens sent over a free-kick six minutes from time, but Sterling could only steer into the side netting from a very tight angle on the right.
COACH UGO EHIOGU SAID
“It was terrific, we’re very pleased. We billed it as a must-win game and we applied a lot of pressure on the boys beforehand. We were in the bottom two so we asked them for fight, spirit, hard work and respect – that’s respecting the little things like winning second balls and getting in the box when someone is making a run down the side and is about to cross it. They’ve delivered today. We were being pressed by an aggressive side but at times we looked a good team – we played with a bit of bravery on the ball as well as off it.
“We had a lot of opportunities and really on another day we might have put the game to bed but Sunderland applied pressure, they got the ball forward quickly and they caused us a few problems. We dealt with it well, though. Japhet Tanganga and Christian Maghoma at centre-half have done really well, there were some positives from Nick Tsaroulla on his debut although he’s still got a lot to work on, Kazaiah Sterling was a handful and played with a bit more intelligence, Joe Pritchard hit the bar, we’ve worked the keeper and then it was an unbelievable save from Pau in the first half – I thought it was in but then he clawed it away with his left arm.
“Everyone did their jobs today from the full-backs through to the midfield players – Zenon Stylianides has had some criticism but he was consistent today and he’s got to learn from that, and it was nice for Shayon Harrison to find a bit of rhythm and get 90 minutes in as well. Shilow Tracey is starting to be a lot more consistent, his hold-up play was okay but he’s been a bit more selfless today, running down the sides and using his pace and strength. The boys all deserve a pat on the back for their resilience – I thought we were the best footballing team on the pitch as well.”
Spurs: Pau Lopez, Muscatt, Tsaroulla, Lesniak (c), Tanganga, Maghoma, Harrison, Stylianides (Skipp 90+1), Tracey, Pritchard (Owens 79), Sterling (Goddard 87). Substitute (not used): Glover (GK).
Sunderland: Stryjek, J Robson, Hume, Wright, Casey, Ledger, Molyneux, E Robson (c), Asoro, Embleton, Greenwood. Substitutes (not used): Brotherton, Gamble, Taylor, Yves Poame, Talbot (GK).
Goal: Spurs - Sterling 5.
Yellow cards: Spurs - Goddard 90+1; Sunderland - J Robson 33, Casey 89.
Referee: Dean Treleaven.
It's the North London derby up next as we travel to Arsenal's Colney training base on Friday, March 3, for a 2pm kick-off. It'll be the first of two visits there inside 24 hours for our academy as we also take on the Gunners in a rearranged Under-18 Premier League fixture the following day.