Cats Eye View: Jason Steele endures a Sunderland debut to forget in heavy Celtic defeat

Jason Steele is left helpless as he dives in vain while Jonny Hayes' strike flies into the net for Celtic's third goal on Saturday. Picture by Frank Reid.
Jason Steele is left helpless as he dives in vain while Jonny Hayes' strike flies into the net for Celtic's third goal on Saturday. Picture by Frank Reid.
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This wasn’t how Sunderland’s showpiece friendly against Celtic to mark the Stadium of Light’s 20-year anniversary was supposed to pan out.

A half-empty stadium, a morale-sapping 5-0 thrashing, trouble in the city centre, Darron Gibson caught on camera criticising his team-mates and a raft of worrying performances most notably by some of the new signings.

What should have been a day to remember quickly turned into a day to forget for Simon Grayson and Sunderland AFC.

Aside from some flag bearers before kick-off and a plane carrying a banner over the stadium 20 minutes in, there was little to mark this out as a celebratory match.

The 8,000-strong army of travelling Celtic fans did their best to create an atmosphere inside the stadium, non-stop singing throughout.

But there was nothing to celebrate from a Sunderland perspective. And just six days before the curtain raiser against Derby County, there was plenty to cause alarm.

Sunderland’s squad had been boosted with the arrival of goalkeeper Jason Steele for £500,000 from Blackburn Rovers and the season-long loan of Lewis Grabban from Bournemouth.

Both were in from the start alongside Grayson’s four other summer signings, Steele wearing the No.1 shirt. His rusty performance was poor, to say the least.

Steele looked nervous and, on too many occasions, put his defence under pressure.

He wasn’t helped by those in front, namely Lamine Kone, but this was a debut to forget for the former Middlesbrough man.

Steele was picking the ball out of his own net within five minutes after a defensive howler.

Tyias Browning played the ball back to Steele, his rushed pass to Kone was poor and the defender’s clearance was horrendously miscued – only succeeding in laying the ball off to Callum McGregor, who slid the ball past the Wearsiders’ new No.1.

There was little he could do about the second goal after Celtic expertly cut the Sunderland defence wide open.

Before the Scottish giants added their third, Steele was almost caught out, quickly coming off his line but failing to deal with the danger.

A goal-line clearance from Brendan Galloway spared Steele’s blushes.

Celtic went 4-0 up from the penalty spot before Nir Bitton rolled a free-kick to fellow sub Stuart Armstrong, who had acres of space to pick his spot for the fifth.

Beaten from distance, Steele would have been far from happy.

Sunderland fans were spoilt by Jordan Pickford’s distribution last season, but Steele’s passing was poor and rushed against Celtic, inviting pressure.

Experienced Steele, with hundreds of games under his belt, is clearly better than his debut would suggest. Fans will be hoping this was a nervy one-off.

So, too, will Grayson as he looks to tie up a deal for Dutch goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter to further bolster his goalkeeping options.

Jan Kirchhoff’s Sunderland debut at White Hart Lane in 2016, when the German endured a torrid afternoon, serves as a reminder not to judge players too harshly on their first performance.

Kirchhoff quickly turned round his Sunderland career and became a key player as Sunderland fought off relegation under Sam Allardyce.

Steele arrived for a relatively small transfer fee and he will quickly want to reassure supporters that it was money well spent, but a sharp improvement is needed.

Up the other end, Grabban was deployed on the right in a 4-2-3-1 system supporting James Vaughan, with Aiden McGeady wide left and Wahbi Khazri in the No.10 role.

Grabban’s display was the most encouraging, impressing with his work-rate and he had a role in the build-up to George Honeyman winning the penalty that Vaughan missed.

Grabban, who argued with Vaughan over who should take the penalty, didn’t threaten the Celtic goal, but his performance was one of very few highlights.

This wasn’t even Celtic’s strongest team. With the Hoops in between crucial Champions League qualifiers boss Brendan Rodgers made six changes.

Yet they tore Sunderland to shreds.

The five-goal winning margin didn’t flatter them. It could have been more.

This was a huge wake-up call and you’d certainly expect a big reaction.

A huge week awaits ahead of the first league game against Derby on Friday.