A fresh injury concern, big changes on the touchline and Will Grigg's welcome: Behind the scenes at Spennymoor 2-2 Sunderland
Sunderland’s pre-season campaign kicked-off at Spennymoor Town, where a youthful squad played out a 2-2 draw against the National League North side.
Just over 1,000 fans were present at the Brewery Field, meaning may Sunderland supporters missed the club’s first game of the 2021/22 campaign.
Here, we take a look behind the scenes at the pre-season friendly and the moments fans may have missed from the stalemate:
THE PRE-MATCH INJURY CONCERN
Josh Hawkes is one of the players that Sunderland fans have eagerly been waiting to see during pre-season – so it was a real shame when he was forced to withdraw from the pre-match warm-up.
The former Hartlepool United man dazzled in the Black Cats’ run to the Premier League 2 play-off final last season and is expected to challenge for a first-team place this season.
But he will have to wait for an opportunity to impress Lee Johnson after he missed the game at the Brewery Field.
Hawkes left the warm-up late on, but was heard telling acquaintances in the Spennymoor Town squad that he was ‘sound’. Indeed, the forward was in no visible pain when he later emerged from the dressing room.
Fans, player and head coach alike will all be hoping Hawkes can make a timely return – and then catch the eye in the following weeks.
A KEY CAPTAINCY CALL
With Max Power having departed the club over the summer, head coach Johnson will soon have to appoint a new captain.
The most obvious candidate is perhaps Bailey Wright, given he has worn the armband before and is trusted by Johnson.
But at Spennymoor, the armband was sported by midfielder Dan Neil.
Neil was the captain of the under-23 side last season and this was a real show of faith in the youngster.
While he is unlikely to have the armband once the season begins in August, it was nonetheless a nice gesture to highlight the academy graduate’s obvious potential.
THE CHANGES ON THE SUNDERLAND BENCH
There were a couple of notable changes on the Sunderland bench at Spennymoor, with some key differences from the play-off exit to Lincoln City.
Firstly, there was no place for Jamie McCombe – the coach who had joined the club’s staff following Jamie McAllister’s ban.
It was perhaps no surprise that McCombe was not present given the arrangement with the former Lincoln man was always understood to be a temporary one.
But there was one new face on the touchline, with new physiotherapist Ketan Patel joining the club staff for this game.
Patel joined Sunderland from Leyton Orient over the summer and will work closely with the senior squad and existing medical team this season.
In the second half, there was also a place on the touchline for new signing Jacob Carney.
The goalkeeper, who joined form Manchester United on Friday, was not involved in the match day squad but warmed-up with Anthony Patterson ahead of the second half.
1,012 – AND A FEW MORE…
The official attendance at the Brewery Field was 1,012, mostly made up of home supporters.
There were a few Sunderland shirts in the crowd though, and there were a number of club officials in attendance – including sporting director Kristjaan Speakman and academy manager Lewis Dickman.
And the actual number of people watching the game was slightly higher than the attendance figure quoted, with some fans going the extra length and watching the fixture from the roofs of adjacent houses!
NOT YOUR TYPICAL FRIENDLY…
Pre-season friendlies, particularly those in the early weeks of preparations, can be fairly tepid and tame affairs.
But that certainly wasn’t the case in this game where, in the first half in particular, there was a real edge to proceedings.
Both Jack Diamond and the host’s Frank Mulhern received stern talkings-to for challenges that may have resulted in cautions were this a league fixture.
In that sense, it was a good test for Sunderland and will have no doubt aided their preparations ahead of the visit of Wigan Athletic on August 7.
WILL GRIGG’S WELCOME
There was plenty of intrigue around the return of Will Grigg who featured for Sunderland after his promising loan spell at MK Dons.
While the striker’s long-term future remains uncertain, in the short-term he looks likely to be involved in the early weeks of Sunderland’s pre-season campaign.
But he received his fair share of jeers from a youthful section of the Spennymoor Town crowd on Saturday, with the vocal fans welcoming him with a light-heartedly chant after Grigg failed to convert an early chance.
It was a golden opportunity for the striker, and he did get into some good areas throughout.
Indeed, his all-round play was encouraging and he combined well with those around him during his 45 minutes on the field.
All eyes will now be on what comes next for the frontman.
THE WELCOME POST-MATCH SCENES
As fans prepare to return to stadiums for the start of the new campaign, it was great to see Sunderland’s players and staff able to mix with supporters at Spennymoor.
The likes of Lee Johnson, Lynden Gooch and Bailey Wright were all more than happy to chat and take socially-distanced selfies with fans – while Gooch also enjoyed a quick kickabout with a young fan.
After a season that was largely played in front of empty stadiums, it’s pleasing to see such scenes returning ahead of the new campaign.
And here’s hoping they once again become commonplace in the coming month.