Exactly what happened and who impressed as Sunderland produce convincing win at Harrogate Town
Sunderland produced their best performance of the pre-season campaign to date as they ran out convincing 4-0 winners at Harrogate Town.
The Black Cats raced into a three-nil lead in an excellent first-half display, with Elliot Embleton scoring an impressive brace.
Embleton was one of a number of players to catch the eye as Sunderland produced some excellent forward play, with Carl Winchester adding a third from another strong team move.
Though the second half was a significantly more competitive affair Sunderland added another when youngster Ellis Taylor saw his cross deflected into the far corner.
It was an afternoon that underlined some of the strength in Lee Johnson’s attacking options even as he continues to search for much-needed defensive reinforcements.
Still short in the full-back areas, Sunderland’s defence was again makeshift as Dan Neil dropped into an unfamiliar left-back role and Carl Winchester returned on the right.
That felt telling, with Luke O’Nien handed a central midfield role for his first appearance of the pre-season campaign.
It was the hosts who started the better, even if O’Nien’s energy almost produced an early chance as he overlapped to the byline and fired in a strong low cross.
With a new-look midfield Sunderland were struggling to build any real spell of possession, Harrogate Town looking the stronger in the final third through the opening ten minutes.
Pattison had three efforts from the edge of the area in a lively start, but he was only able to draw a save from Anthony Patterson with one of his attempts and even then it was a comfortable stop low to the youngster’s right.
Jack Diamond managed to haul his side up the field with a strong run and effort from the left, and from that moment on the Black Cats never really looked back.
They had the lead within a minute, Embleton picking up the ball on the halfway line and driving all the way to the edge of the box. His low effort took a deflection on its way past Oxley in the Harrogate goal but it was reward for his intent and ambition.
He repeated the trick three minutes later, Evans making a good interception before moving infield to tee up the attacking midfielder. There was another deflection on his effort as Oxley was beaten again, but it showcased his ability as this time he beat his defender by cutting inside and shooting on his left foot.
When Diamond drew another excellent save in the aftermath of that second goal, Harrogate were rocking.
The hosts did have a couple of chances through the half, Sunderland almost the architects of their own downfall.
Armstrong had a good chance when Neil lost the ball on the left flank, the visitors exposed as a cross was played into the near post. The former Hartlepool loanee should have hit the target, but could only nod wide of the near post.
He had another chance when Doyle erred on the ball, but the youngster recovered to deflect his effort wide.
That was the only error in another immensely impressive Doyle performance, his distribution from the back almost flawless.
Despite those lapses it was the visitors who looked the more threatening, their biggest issue being not being able to capitalise on Stewart’s good runs into the channel.
That almost produced a goal when Evans raced to meet his low cutback; his drive just over the bar.
Evans had set the tempo in midfield and played a key role in the third goal, winning the ball deep in the Harrogate half. He found Aiden O’Brien infield and the striker released Winchester on the overlap with a precise pass. The Northern Irishman showed impressive composure to turn the ball past Oxley.
The Black Cats kept that momentum moving into the second half, Neil and Evans combining well to release Stewart. The Scot’s effort was too close to Oxley, who was able to palm clear of danger.
Stewart was through on goal again shortly after, again denied by Oxley.
Harrogate began to finally find some intensity to their game, pushing Sunderland back towards their own goal for a first real spell of pressure since the opening exchanges.
Though they almost capitalised from a set piece as Johnson rang the changes on the hour mark, the Black Cats were able to clear their lines and Burge was still largely untested in the Sunderland goal.
Johnson’s side settled as they started to enjoy more possession, Neil bringing some welcome authority to the middle of the pitch.
They were able to extend their lead further when Grigg showed good awareness to bring the ball down and tee up Ellis Taylor.
The young winger cut back inside and released his cross, which took a deflection to defeat the despairing Oxley once again.
Josh Muldoon should have reduced the deficit when he capitalised on some uncertainty in the home defence to burst through on goal, but his effort was wide of the far post. The Black Cats felt he had handballed as he broke away from O’Nien, but the referee waved play on as he missed an excellent opening.
Harrogate looked the most threatening in the closing minutes as they pushed to reduce the deficit, but the Black Cats arguably should have made it five when Grigg nodded a cross from Kenton Richardson just wide.
The convincing win was well deserved on balance of play.
Sunderland XI: Patterson (Burge, 45); Winchester (Dyce, 70), Flanagan (Richardson, 70), Doyle (Younger, 60), Neil; Evans (Kimpioka, 60), O’Nien, Embleton (Wilding, 60); Diamond (Hawkes, 80), O’Brien (Taylor, 60), Stewart (Grigg, 60)