Encouraging Dan Neil signs, Ross Stewart relief and Sunderland's full-backs: Takeaways from Dundee United win
Sunderland are just two weeks away from the start of the new Championship campaign – and things are starting to take shape following a 2-0 win over Dundee United.
While there are still obvious gaps in the squad, mostly notably a lack of options up front, the Black Cats have maintained the core of last season’s promotion-winning team, while bolstering their defensive options this summer.
Here are a few takeaways from the win at Tannadice Park:
Dan Neil looks refreshed
After last season’s breakthrough into the first team, when he registered seven League One assists in the first half of the campaign, Dan Neil fell down the pecking order following Alex Neil’s appointment in February.
The 20-year-old midfielder lost confidence as the side’s performances dipped at the turn of the year, but clearly he’s a player with lots of ability.
In his pre-season appearances so far, Neil has looked re-energised in the engine room, while trying to be progressive with his passes.
With Corry Evans alongside him, Neil was also able to make some late runs into the box against Dundee United, providing an extra goal threat.
Full-backs given licence to attack
When he arrived at Sunderland last season, Neil felt he had to change the side’s formation to give them more defensive security.
Now the Black Cats boss feels his side are ready to play with his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, a system which he has used in all three pre-season games so far.
Neil said after the match that he could still switch to a back three. Still, the side has looked well-balanced in the aforementioned shape.
With Evans regularly dropping deep, full-backs Trai Hume and Dennis Cirkin were given licence to attack at Tannadice Park. That was evident for the opening goal as Cirkin’s cross fell to Hume who subsequently headed home.
Ross Stewart relief
There were some concerns after Ross Stewart missed Wednesday’s friendly against Roma with a minor injury, yet the forward returned to the starting XI and played 65 minutes here.
While he didn’t score, the Scot made some probing runs in behind the hosts’ defence, while pressing effectively from the front.
It was Stewart’s pressure which led to United defender Charlie Mulgrew scoring a spectacular own goal in the 62nd minute.
With a lack of forward options, winger Jack Diamond replaced Stewart up front in the second half, highlighting the need for reinforcements.
Options at the back
One area where Sunderland now look well stocked is at centre-back.
Bailey Wright made his first appearance of pre-season in the left centre-back role, alongside Daniel Ballard, and the pair looked comfortable against a limited United attack in the first half.
Danny Batth was also on the bench, while new signing Aji Alese replaced Wright in the 65th minute.
Alese is the only left-footed option out of the four and showed he’s willing to step out with the ball and initiate attacks during his brief cameo.
A few late lapses which need cutting out
While Sunderland looked comfortable for most of the match, the hosts did apply some late pressure.
The introduction of substitute Mathew Cudjoe gave United more of a threat on their right flank, and there were a few uncertain moments in the Black Cats’ box.
Overall, though, it was a deserved victory for Neil’s side.