Exactly what happened as Sunderland began their pre-season campaign at Spennymoor Town with 2-2 draw
Sunderland kicked off their pre-season campaign with a 2-2 draw at National League North side Spennymoor Town.
Lee Johnson’s senior group took a 1-0 lead at the interval, with Aiden O’Brien capitalising on a goalkeeper error to put his side ahead.
An entirely-changed XI of U23 players fell behind in the early stages of the second half from a pair of set-piece goals, but a fine strike from Ellis Taylor levelled the scores.
The young Black Cats enjoyed most of the ball after that, but Spennymoor missed a great late chance to win when Glen Taylor raced through on goal.
Johnson’s senior group had largely controlled the first half, with both Will Grigg and Ross Stewart missing good chances to score as the build-up to the new season began in earnest.
With Johnson’s squad thin as it stands, a number of players were out of position in a 3-5-2 shape.
Carl Winchester dropped into the right of the back three, with Lynden Gooch and Jack Diamond as the wing-backs. Dan Neil, captain, anchored the midfield with Elliot Embleton and Aiden O’Brien above him.
Will Grigg and Ross Stewart played as a front two, almost combining within two minutes to give the Black Cats the lead.
It was excellent play from Gooch to spring Stewart clear, and his low cross to the back post drifted clear as Grigg lost his footing. That was a theme of the half, with players from both sides slipping on the turf at regular intervals.
Spennymoor Town started brightly, unsurprisingly finding space behind the Sunderland wing-backs.
It was the visitors who forged the best openings, though, Stewart ruled to be offside after being sprung clear from a wonderful Embleton pass over the top.
That was Sunderland’s main ploy through the half; regularly looking to stretch the play by playing over the top and into the wide areas.
The rhythm of a lively game was disrupted by a serious injury on 19 minutes, with Embleton’s crunching challenge leaving Moke unable to play on. That was a blow for the hosts, with the midfielder excellent early on in the way he broke up play and stepped in front of his defence.
Sunderland began to turn the screw, O’Brien striking the post after good combination play from Winchester and Grigg.
The goal quickly followed, the Spennymoor goalkeeping erring when he dropped what was an excellent cross from Stewart to the back post. O’Brien was the quickest to react, turning home a simple finish with his left foot.
Spennymoor’s best chance of the half came when they were able to find space in behind the Sunderland defence. A low cross from the left looked certain to be turned in, but Tom Flanagan did well to intercept and thump clear of danger.
Despite some promising play from the hosts Lee Burge was largely untroubled, though he did do well to make one low stop from Taylor.
Sunderland should have extended their lead further before the break, with both Embleton and Gooch increasingly influential.
Gooch did well to find Grigg inside the box, and the striker produced an excellent cross the back post. Stewart misjudged his jump, heading over from a couple of yards out.
Diamond also went close before the break after being found in space on the edge of the area, but his effort just lacked the pace to beat the home goalkeeper.
Sunderland went into the break having had the better of the contest even if hosts had enjoyed moments of threat.
Flanagan had been forced into another strong clearance when he slipped from a throw-in, showing good strength to recover and clear.
Sunderland changed their entire side at the interval, with Michael Proctor overseeing an U23 side.
Josh Hawkes was not involved, having appeared to pick up a minor injury during the warm ups before the game.
Ellis Taylor and Anthony Patterson, who both signed new deals in recent weeks and have been training with the senior group, were both involved.
The Black Cats showed some quality in possession, but struggled to contain the hosts and in particular from set pieces.
Spennymoor levelled when an excellent corner to the front post was met by Tait, whose thumping header left Patterson with no chance. Sunderland were behind a couple of minutes later after another set piece goal, this time from a free kick. The Black Cats initially did well to block Kennedy’s header on the line, but the ball fell for the midfielder to turn home the follow up.
At that stage it looked as if Sunderland’s youngsters were struggling with the physicality of their opponents, but increasingly they began to settle and see more possession.
Taylor was an increasingly influential figure, cutting in with ease from the right flank and bringing others into play.
He levelled the scores with a superb goal with 20 minutes to play, gathering the ball inside the box and thumping the ball into the top corner on his left foot.
Sunderland enjoyed the majority of possession after that, but were just unable to turn promising moves into clear cut chances.
Spennymoor had a great chance to win it late on, when Glen Taylor raced through on goal. His effort was wide, and though a goal kick was given, it looked as if Cameron Jessup had made a superb late block to deny him.
Sunderland XI (FIRST HALF): Burge; Diamond, Wright, Flanagan, Gooch; Winchester, Neil, Embleton; O’Brien, Stewart, Grigg
Sunderland XI (SECOND HALF) : Patterson, Kachosa, Almond, Jessup, Dyce (Newall, 85), Wilding, Wearne, Sonha (Scott, 85), Taylor, Harris, Dunne