Roy Hodgson praised the “terrific” atmosphere inside the Stadium of Light as he prepares to finalise his England squad for Euro 2016.
England usually play their home international matches at Wembley, but Hodgson and the FA have taken to the road this week for their warm-up matches.
It is all part of their preparations for this summer’s tournament in France – and they were backed by a sell-out crowd of 46,595 for the 2-1 friendly win against Australia.
Teenage sensation Marcus Rashford scored the opening goal on his England debut less than three minutes into the match before substitute Wayne Rooney made it 2-0 after the break.
An Eric Dier own goal halved the deficit in front of a bumper North East crowd.
Hodgson admits he faces a few more “sleepless nights” ahead of naming his final 23-man squad on Tuesday.
But the atmosphere inside and outside the ground left a lasting impression on the England boss, who has taken his team to Manchester and Sunderland this week.
“The atmosphere was terrific,” Hodgson told the Echo.
“We were very happy in Manchester and have been very happy here too.
“It is not just the atmosphere in the stadium but all around the stadium too and where we have been staying.
“Coming here [to Sunderland], the people before the game, there has been a tremendous feeling of welcome, enthusiasm and excitement.
“The FA have accepted this initiative to take a couple of games away from Wembley and to give other people in different parts of the country the chance to show their support.
“We know the support is there, we know we are supported all round the county.
“We feel that, it has been nice this time to have a tangible proof of that.”
Last night’s match against Australia was the final chance for the fringe players to shine before the 26-man preliminary squad is cut.
Chris Smalling went off with cramp in the second half, while Hodgson remains hopeful Daniel Sturridge’s injury won’t keep him out of his plans. Hodgson added: “The balance of the squad and who we take to cover certain eventualities, that has been a constant source of topic and thought.
“Nothing changes there and there will be one or two more sleepless nights before I have to submit a list.
“If it turns out that Sturridge’s injury would keep him out and he would be unfit when we played Russia in Marseille that might make a difference.
“But I have not had an indication that it is putting his chances of playing in France in jeopardy.
“He is a very good quality player and he is in the mix with everyone else.
“Smalling went off with cramp. We wanted to give [Eric] Dier a chance at centre-back anyway but after his goal he might get a chance at centre forward!
“There is no problem with Smalling though, he is fine.”
It was a much-changed England side with neither Jamie Vardy or Harry Kane – two certain starters in France – involved at the Stadium of Light.
Vardy wasn’t included as he got married on Wednesday night, while Spurs striker Kane didn’t make it off the bench.