Towards the end of last season, Dick Advocaat gave Jack Rodwell some tough love.
Rodwell was reminded by Advocaat of the qualities which saw teams pay more than £20million for his services by the time he was 23, but was effectively told to ‘man up’ in coping with the niggling injuries which have blighted him over recent years.
Advocaat clearly rates Rodwell, but he needs to know he can rely upon the the ex-Manchester City man.
A big season therefore awaits for him, particularly if Sunderland spend big to boost their midfield ranks with a player capable of pulling the strings in the middle of the park.
But Rodwell has been catching the eye in training since returning to pre-season and there was evident of that this morning, despite Sunderland succumbing to a second defeat out of two during their friendly programme in California.
Rodwell scored one – and could have had another couple – as he showed the confidence to stamp his authority on proceedings.
That’s what Advocaat will want to see from his players at this stage.
The defeats will not particularly concern him, even if Sunderland conceded two poor goals defensively and were not able to maintain their performance from the opening 20 minutes in a game which became increasingly ill-tempered.
The second half, as was the case in Wednesday’s loss to Sacramento Republic, saw Sunderland pinned back and looking jaded and jet-legged.
But Advocaat wants to see glimpses of his players finding their feet and building their match sharpness.
Rodwell’s fourth minute opener was just what Advocaat has challenged him to show more of.
The ex-Everton man picked up possession 30 yards out, drove towards the penalty area and calmly stroked it low into the bottom corner.
Connor Wickham forced diminutive Pachuca keeper Oscar Perez into a save six minutes later with a free-kick from 25 yards that was pushed away low to his left by the stopper.
Rodwell almost netted another stunner in the 13th minute, when he collected possession in a similar area to his first after excellent quick feet and distribution from Emanuele Giaccherini.
Pachuca’s defenders were quicker to close down Rodwell, but he let fly with a right-footer which swerved just beyond the far post.
But Pachuba levelled in the 15th minute when striker Ariel Nahuelpan directed an excellent header perfectly back across Jordan Pickford from a right wing cross.
The game became increasingly tetchy, with Rodwell going into the book for hurling his opponent to the floor, who reacted theatrically.
Rodwell then went close again when he directed Lee Cattermole’s cross-come-shot just wide after Giaccherini’s inswinging free-kick was only partially cleared.
But it was Nahuelpan who doubled his tally in the 25th minute when Matthews was caught out of position and Hirving Lozano’s low cross from the left-hand byline was converted at the back post by the Pachuba striker.
While Matthews was at fault, Jordan Pickford will have been disappointed at his failure to prevent the cross too.
The woodwork then saved Sunderland when Heriberto Olvera hit a sweet free-kick from 25 yards which curled off the top of the bar.
The second half was largely one-way traffic, with Sunderland labouring.
After a handful of near misses, Pachuba made it 3-1 in the 66th minute when Billy Jones was caught ouf position and Hirving Lozano won the leg race with Wes Brown.
From an inviting angle to the right of goal, Lozano smashed it spectacularly into the far corner from the edge of the area past a helpless Pickford.
Pachuba were then given a laughable penalty when O’Shea and Nahuelpan simply bundled into each other.
However, Pickford came to the rescue from the resulting spot-kick when he blocked Ruben Botla’s effort superbly and then stopped the follow-up.
The introduction of Duncan Watmore and Danny Graham failed to alter the pattern of what have been two very forgettable friendlies here in California.
They’ve been as dire as pre-season can be at this stage.
The arrival of Adam Johnson, Sebastian Coates, Jeremain Lens, Younes Kaboul and Patrick van Aanholt should improve matters for Wednesday’s clash against MLS outfit Toronto.
By then too, Advocaat will want to see a more rounded display from his side, not just flashes from those looking to prove their credentials.
Sunderland: Pickford, Matthews, O’Shea, Brown, Jones, Cattermole, Giaccherini (Larsson 46), Rodwell, Wickham (Watmore 66), Fletcher (Graham 66), Defoe. Subs: Mannone, Beadling, Buckley, Bridcutt,
Pachuca: Perez, Martinez, Rodriguez, Mosquera, Olvera, Gutierrez, Hernandez, Urretaviscaya, Botla, Lozano, Nahuelpan.