Jack Ross needs more bodies but Sunderland have shown they are ready to compete this season
The Riverside lights went out last night, but this was another bright display from Sunderland that has slowly but surely become the norm under manager Jack Ross.
The Black Cats’ pre-season preparation was cut short by 45 minutes as the long, hot, stressful summer gave way to a raging thunderstorm, forcing an abandonment of the friendly showdown with Middlesbrough.
Ross was typically honest in his post-match remarks.
Sunderland are not yet where he wants them to be.
This has been, he believes, the toughest pre-season he will ever encounter in his career as a manager.
His squad remains short on depth and nowhere more so than up front.
But it is to his, and his threadbare squad’s, credit that for this shortened encounter, there was nothing between the Black Cats and their Middlesbrough counterparts, who will expect to challenge at the top end of the Championship this season.
Indeed, Sunderland were arguably the better side, drawing a number of saves from home keeper Darren Randolph and finding their way in behind the Boro defence on three or four occasions to delight the 1,000-strong travelling support in a crowd of 7,509.
They struggled to cope with Adama Traore, but few teams, at any level, can match his pace and raw talent.
Elsewhere, the Wearsiders were tidy and inventive, youngster Bali Mumba typifying that with a display that was at times a touch naive but mostly brave and enjoyable.
As Ross alluded to, his team remains short.
There were few proven options on the bench, had this game gone the distance, and there is no doubt that an orthdodox centre-forward is required.
Sunderland’s movement in recent weeks has been excellent and Ross favours a front three that is fluid and flexible, but they need a guaranteed source of goals and someone who can battle in the inevitable moments where the Black Cats find their backs to the wall.
The imminent deals for Peterborough centre-back Jack Baldwin and Wycombe midfielder Luke O’Nien, both of whom represent significant investments at this level, will add depth to the squad and offer some hope that Sunderland can get that elusive striker deal over the line.
Without it, there is a significant asterisk against the club’s prospects for the League One season which begins a week today, with the visit of Charlton Athletic.
Ross, though, has clearly had a significant response from his players and they are unquestionably ready to compete.
Scotland international Jon McLaughlin again looked superb in goal last night, a source of great relief for supporters following last season’s goalkeeping travails.
His team-mates were patient and progressive in possession, lacking a slight cutting edge but playing against a team whose manager, Tony Pulis, is notorious for defensive discipline.
On debut, experienced centre-back Glenn Loovens was a steadying influence for Sunderland and on-loan Watford forward Jerome Sinclair showed flashes of the pace he possesses.
Lynden Gooch, again, was a menace.
Are Sunderland ready for Charlton?
They are not where their manager wants them to be, but they are in a better position than many would have imagined.
Anyone who has watched Sunderland in their final pre-season games will be experiencing the forgotten sensation of looking forward to watching their team play next week.
After two years where utter misery has become the norm, that is something to savour.