Exactly how it played out as Callum Doyle and Aiden McGeady lead Sunderland in strong showing at Hearts
Sunderland produced an impressive performance to run out comfortable 2-0 winners at Hearts of Midlothian on Saturday afternoon.
Aiden McGeady produced a first-half brace to give his side a comfortable lead that they never really looked like relinquishing.
Hearts did go close with a number of second-half set pieces, but the Black Cats looked in control for the most part and arguably could have extended their first-half lead even further.
It proved a valuable exercise for Lee Johnson and his squad, with Callum Doyle producing a particularly impressive performance on debut. It was the Manchester City youngster who produced a superb pass in the build-up to the opening goal, while his qualities in defence were obvious.
With Hearts’ competitive campaign already underway, this looked like being a stern test for Lee Johnson’s side and so it proved.
It was to their credit that they came through a lively first half with two goals and a number of good chances created.
Though the Black Cats dominated possession through the opening ten minutes or so, the home side looked a threat on the break. The intelligence of Liam Boyce is well known to Sunderland through his Burton Albion days, while Gary Mackay-Steven carried the ball into dangerous areas.
Those two combined to create the first real opening but Sunderland were able to clear their lines and soon had the lead.
Doyle was being given a stern early test by Boyle, but demonstrated his impressive technical skill by driving out from the back and cutting the home defence open with a superb through ball. Ross Stewart beat his namesake in the Hearts goal to the ball, and was brought down.
McGeady stepped up and comfortably fired the penalty home.
Sunderland grew in confidence from then on, pressing well and looking dangerous.
A drinks break in the sweltering conditions somewhat checked their momentum, and the home side began to grow into the game. Unsurprisingly, Sunderland’s inexperienced full-back options left openings.
Dyce in particular was positive going forward, but Smith was finding space behind him. SUnderland were fortunate that when Flanagan miscued aclearance, Boyce could only turn his volley over the bar at the back post.
Mackay-Steven burst in on goal just moments later, but Doyle made a superb block to prevent him levelling the scores.
Patterson was forced to make a good low block as the home side continued to threaten in the wide areas, but Johnson’s group finished the half strongly and should have extended their lead even further than the two-goal lead they held at the break.
The first chance came when Neil forced an error with his pressing, O’Brien pouncing on the loose ball. He looked set to score after stepping past the defender, but saw his low effort well saved by Stewart.
Shortly afterwards he did superbly to control an excellent corner from Elliot Embleton, crashing his effort off the crossbar.
The momentum was with Sunderland and the second arrived five minutes before the break. Hearts were breaking into a dangerous area when Dyce stepped in, winning the ball with a crunching challenge. On the right flank Lynden Gooch spun away from three players, sliding the ball in for McGeady who scored a first-time finish.
Only an excellent clearance prevented Stewart putting the visitors three ahead at the break.
Hearts started the second half the better, with substitute Euan Henderson seeing a deflected loop just over Patterson and onto the roof of the net. Sunderland settled quickly, though, with some promising through balls from Embleton just not quite finding their target in the final third.
The visitors had almost total control of possession, though they were fortunate that the hosts did not capitalise on two set-piece openings. From the second it looked as if substitute Mihai Popescu has reduced the deficit with a towering header from a corner, but it drifted inches wide with Patterson rooted to the stop.
With both sides making changes it was Sunderland who continued to look the most dangerous, Embleton forcing a smart save when he combined well with McGeady down the left and broke towards goal from the left.
The pace of the game slowed a little as the changes continued, and set pieces continued to be the best avenue of attack from the hosts. Walker looked to have scored when a corner dropped kindly for him, but his half volley struck the foot of the far post before bouncing clear.
Sunderland has one or two moments of threat on the counter attack, but just couldn’t quite find the final ball to put the game to bed.
There were nevertheless some encouraging cameos from a much-changed side, with Kenton Richardson lively at right-back and Corry Evans showing his range of passing on occasions.
With Denver Hume’s contract impasse seemingly ongoing there are obvious gaps in the Black Cats squad to be addressed as the pre-season campaign begins to step up in intensity, but the effectiveness of his side’s forward play in the most part will have pleased Johnson.
After their week-long camp in Edinburgh the Black Cats will face Harrogate Town on Wednesday night, before travelling to York City on Saturday afternoon.
Clashes with Tranmere Rovers and Hull City will conclude the pre-season programme ahead of the opening-day visit of Wigan Athletic.
Sunderland XI: Patterson; Winchester (Wilding, 75), Flanagan, Doyle (Younger, 75), Dyce (Diamond, 45); Neil (Evans, 60), Embleton, Gooch, McGeady (Taylor, 75); O’Brien (Richardson, 60), Stewart (Grigg, 60)
Bookings: McGeady, 31