SUNDERLAND fell at the first hurdle in the Peace Cup today, losing to a strong and well-organised Seongnam side who had the beating of the Premier League team for fitness and sharpness.
In an open game, with plenty of chances for both sides, the damage was done just before the half-hour when Brazilian Everton Santos, his side’s best player, exchanged a one-two with Javier Calvo and confidently steered a shot around Simon Mignolet from five yards out.
Mignolet immediately before and Michael Turner immediately afterwards had blunted dangerous Seongnam attacks in a first-half which saw Sunderland’s best chances fall to Kieran Richardson.
Richardson, playing in a left-wing role had three opportunities but his best was the first, heading wide from eight yards in the 10th minute.
Sunderland upped their game after the hour-mark and were unlucky not to level – Connor Wickham and Craig Gardner hit the post and crossbar respectively and in between those chances Turner headed wide, six-yards out from a corner.
The Black Cats, playing in their new home strips for the first time, gave new signing Carlos Cuellar a 60th minute debut and Sunderland got through the game without injuries but Martin O’Neill cut an unhappy figure on the touchline as his players tried and failed to get the leveller they needed.
His squad will now go on to play in the runners-up game which takes place early on Sunday, prior to the final in the evening. They will face the losers of the FC Groningen v Hamburg game, due to be played in the Suwon Stadium tomorrow night.
O’Neill set out a 4-5-1 formation which became a 4-3-3 when the Black Cats were on the attack.
Wes Brown and Jack Colback were the full-backs, Fraizer Campbell and Richardson the wingers with Wickham the lone striker.
It was the South Koreans who made all the running in the opening few minutes as Sunderland looked to settle into unfamiliar surroundings and conditions.
Defender Namgung Woong drove a shot wide from range but there was much more danger in the sixth minute when Titus Bramble failed to pick up from a right-wing corner and centre-half Lim Jongeun powered a header wide.
Gradually Sunderland got a foothold.
Striker Park Seyoung picked up a ninth minute yellow for a foul on David Meyler in what was the Black Cats’ first attack of the game, then the Wearsiders earned two corners in quick succession and Richardson headed the second one wide.
The surge was not to last though and midway through the first-half Seongnam twice came close to breaking through.
First, the lively Santos came desperately close to getting on the right side of a one-two in the Sunderland area and then Campbell was flummoxed in the right-back position and grateful to see the close-range cross lack quality.
The South Koreans took the lead though in the 29th minute when, this time, a Santos one-two did come off, exchanging passes with Javier Calvo before curling a confident shot around Mignolet from five yards out with the Belgian unable to defend the shot at his left-hand post.
Sunderland could have no complaints – Turner had made a last-ditch block in his six-yard box a couple of minutes earlier and Mignolet made a brave save at the feet of the goalscorer a couple of minutes after the lead was taken.
Sunderland looked to be pacing themselves, content to hold the ball and choose their attacking moments.
They created another good chance in the 40th minute when Meyler centred to Richardson at the far post but the defenders’ first-time volley from the left, eight yards out, flashed over and he was out of luck with another thrash with virtually the last kick of the half.
Half-time: Seongnam 1 Sunderland 0
Sunderland were unchanged for the second-half but found themselves on the back-foot early on with Seongnam starting brightly - Calvo shooting from long range before defender Hong Chul was unlucky not to get on the end of a ball over the top.
By the time Calvo surged through but dragged his shot across the face of goal from the left in the 55th minute, it was clear Sunderland needed to up their game.
But raise their game they did, shortly after Cuellar was sent on as a 60th minute substitute for Bramble. Before Roarie Deacon replaced Richardson and Blair Adams Brown in the 72nd minute, Sunderland carved out three great chances.
First Gardner found Wickham with a great forward pass and the striker held off a challenge before cracking in a right-foot shot which was diverted on the post. Turner then threatened from a right-wing corner, heading wide.
But closest of all to levelling was arguably Gardner, whose 70th minute free-kick thundered against Jeong San’s crossbar.
Sunderland’s double substitution saw them pause to adjust and in that time Seongnam went close to doubling their lead – striker Jeon Hyncheol, also on as a substitute, driving a shot against Mignolet’s right-hand post.
Sunderland brought on Ryan Noble for Campbell in the final 10 minutes hoping for a sting in the tale but the danger came at the other end were Mignolet produced a great save to deny Hyuncheol’s full-blooded volley from 10 yards.
Sunderland: Mignolet, Brown (sub Adams 72), Bramble (sub Cuellar 60), Turner, Richardson (sub Deacon 72), Campbell (sub Noble 80), Cattermole, Meyler, Gardner, Colback, Wickham. Unused subs: Wilson, Pickford, Egan, Laing, Knott, Vaughan, Reed, Lynch.
Seongnam: San, Youngsun, Jongeun, JinPo, Woong, Chul, Sungjoon, Santos, Pyungrae, Calvo, Seyoung. Subs: Jin, Jaewon, Jaemyung, Jaekwang, Sunghwan, Bitgaram, Jae, Woo, Hyuncheol, Il.
Referee: Abdul Malik (Singapore)
Sunderland bookings: Bramble 36, Colback 89.