SUNDERLAND succumbed to their third defeat in four pre-season outings after being hit by a late double against Swedish champions Helsingborgs.
Goals from substitutes Alfred Finnbogason and May Mahlangu were enough to inflict defeat on Sunderland in Scandinavia despite an improved showing from Martin O’Neill’s side.
As expected, Helsingborgs were more of a threat going forward after already completing more than half of the Swedish domestic campaign.
But Sunderland looked sharper than in their previous friendly outing against Hartlepool and mustered a handful of chances – the best of which fell to half-time substitute Connor Wickham.
It was a third friendly defeat for Sunderland though, with the Black Cats drawing a blank in front of goal in each of those encounters.
John O’Shea, James McClean and Seb Larsson all made their maiden appearances of pre-season after being handed a fortnight’s extra leave due to their international exertions during the summer.
Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood started his first game of pre-season, while Carlos Cuellar returned to the side after shaking off a thigh strain.
Craig Gardner was handed the role in the hole behind lone striker Fraizer Campbell, as Sunderland began the game with a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Helsingborgs looked sharp in the early stages and should have gone ahead in the sixth minute when striker Ben Acheampong lifted the ball over Cuellar to the right of goal before horribly shanking an effort over the bar from eight yards.
Sunderland survived and the game evened out – the Black Cats wasting a couple of corners before the 15-minute mark.
O’Neill’s side mustered their first effort in the 18th minute when Larsson shrugged off the challenge of ex-Spurs full-back Erik Edman and lifted the ball to the back stick from the right-hand byline.
The ball dropped into the path of McClean, but the Republic of Ireland winger couldn’t get over the ball and sent his volley high and wide.
Only a superb goal-line block from Kieran Richardson denied Helsingborgs the opener in the 26th minute.
Frontman Kaka had pounced on Cuellar’s attempted interception midway inside the Sunderland half and burst into the gap vacated by the defender.
Kaka was denied by a combined block from Westwood and Titus Bramble, but the ball dribbled into the path of David Accam with the goal at his mercy.
Richardson was alert to the impending goal though, racing back and blocking Accam’s low effort in the goalmouth.
Sunderland responded, McClean sending a soaring effort to the far post from the left and Edman blocking Campbell’s header from an acute angle.
Right-back Emil Krafth tried his luck from 25 yards in the 32nd minute, but the shot was too close to Westwood who gathered comfortably.
Gardner followed suit a minute later, sending a dipping shot at goal from a similar range that required a smart parry to his right by Helsingborgs stopper Daniel Andersson.
Richardson was in the referee’s book in the 37th minute after bringing down Kaka 25 yards out.
Daniel Nordmark struck a powerful resulting free-kick, but it was straight at Westwood.
The Republic of International stopper was forced to produce a more testing save three minutes later after Rachid Bouaouzan slipped in the unmarked Kaka down the left-hand side of the area with a clever reverse pass.
Kaka shot across goal to the far corner and Westwood parried away double-handed before Bouaouzan sliced the rebound wide of the mark.
Moments later, Accam tried his luck from 20 yards with a shot across goal from the right of the area – the ball evading Westwood and bobbling just wide of the far post.
HALF-TIME Helsingborgs 0 Sunderland 0
O’Neill made a treble substitution at the break with Connor Wickham, Matt Kilgallon and Simon Mignolet introduced at the expense of Seb Larsson, Jack Colback and Keiren Westwood.
The changes saw Kilgallon come in at left-back, Richardson pushed forward onto the left wing with McClean on the right and Wickham partnering Campbell up top.
Wickham could have found the net within three minutes of the restart after playing a one-two with Campbell and receiving a return ball that left him with just Andersson to beat.
But the 19-year-old took a touch to control rather than hitting the chance first time and that allowed Krafth to get a block on the striker’s shot and turn it behind.
O’Shea flashed a glancing header over the top moments later from McClean’s corner from the right.
Gardner tried his luck in the 53rd minute with a low shot from 25 yards that was too hot for Andersson to handle, but the keeper appeared to redeem himself by pushing Wickham’s rebound effort onto the post, only for the offside flag to be raised regardless.
Helsingborgs half-time substitute May Mahlangu flashed a shot over the bar in the 59th minute, that was never going to trouble Mignolet.
Wickham produced a decent effort in the 61st minute after being slipped in by Gardner down the left. He jinked his way past the half-hearted challenge of Mahlangu and struck a powerful left-footed shot which was tipped over the tap by Andersson.
Mignolet had to be alert in the 67th minute when Gardner attempted to head clear Edman’s corner at the near post. The ball bounced straight into the turf and looped back towards goal via a deflection before the Sunderland keeper tipped it over the top.
O’Neill made a treble change two minutes later when Ryan Noble, Billy Knott and Louis Laing replaced Campbell, Richardson and O’Shea.
But within seconds Helsingborgs finally broke the deadlock when substitute Alfred Finnbogason struck a nonchalant shot on the turn from 25 yards out which curled into the net off Mignolet’s left-hand post.
Helsingborgs doubled their advantage with a quick-fire second in the 72nd minute when Mahlangu smashed the ball low past Mignolet from just inside the area after his initial shot was blocked.
Sunderland made their final substitutions with 12 minutes to go when Craig Lynch and Adam Reed replaced Lee Cattermole and McClean.
FULL-TIME Helsingborgs 2 Sunderland 0
HELSINGBORGS: Andersson (Linde 75), Bergholtz, Nordmark, Bouaouzan (Finnbogason 62), Edman (Uronen 75), Krafth, Baffo, Acheampong (Sundin 46), Kaka (Ohlander 46), Accam (Mahlangu 46), Bjorkman (Kvist 46). Sub not used: Sadiku. Booked: Finnbogason (90)
SUNDERLAND: Westwood (Mignolet 46), O’Shea (Laing 69), Bramble, Cuellar, Richardson (Knott 69), Larsson (Kilgallon 46), Cattermole (Reed 78), Colback (Wickham 46), McClean (Lynch 78), Gardner, Campbell (Noble 69). Booked: Richardson (37), Gardner (64), Reed (90)