This is how Sunderland's final pre-season friendly played out as substitute pair give Phil Parkinson plenty to ponder
Will Grigg’s late goal made it three wins from three as Sunderland brought their pre-season campaign to a close with a narrow win over Harrogate Town.
The Black Cats had laboured for much of the contest against a well-organised visited outfit, but substitute’s Grigg ruthless finished proved to be the difference.
Grigg’s goal was created from another moment of quality by youngster Dan Neil, who again took the chance to catch the eye from the bench with a delighted through ball.
The pair gave Sunderland boss Phil Parkinson plenty to ponder as his original XI stuggled to create openings in a game that was tepid for the most part.
Parkinson has mixed and matched his XI’s in pre-season so far but with the start of the competitive season just seven days away, this team seemed to represent something of a statement.
This was the core of the side that finished the last campaign and that seems likely to start the next.
Josh Scowen was rewarded for his lively pre-season showings thus far, slotting in alongside Max Power in what was the only real change to Parkinson’s previously preferred partnerships.
Familiarity, though, did not breed fluidity.
It was a tepid start to the game, neither side able to build any meaningful attacks or spells of possession in the opposition half.
Will Smith’s weak header over the bar from a corner was the only attempt in the opening quarter of an hour, Harrogate marginally the better side without really testing Lee Burge in the Sunderland goal.
Simon Weaver’s side looked the more likely, and Lloyd Kerry had sight of goal when Tom Flanagan gifted possession away. Ketty’s effort was well over the bar; his side just unable to turn promising openings into meaningful attempts.
Thomson was the next to miss an opening, finding himself in space on the right of the box after good hold-up play from former Black Cat Jon Stead.
His weak drive was easily saved by Burge, who had another relatively simple stop from Jack Muldoon shortly afterwards.
Sunderland were unable to get going, their best play coming when Luke O’Nien was able to advance deep down the right flank.
He did well to get clear moments after Muldoon’s effort, but a low cross from the byline was easily cut out by Cracknell in the Harrogate goal.
It was O’Nien again at the heart of it when the Black Cats forged their first real opening.
His early cross from deep on the right-hand side caught the away defence out, and though it was just too deep for Charlie Wyke, Denver Hume was able to meet it with a first-time volley at the back post.
His connection was good, but Cracknell was unmoved as it flew over the crossbar.
A tame opening period ended with a brief sight of goal for both teams.
Poor play in the away defence allowed Chris Maguire to swoop and play in Lynden Gooch, who was denied by an outstanding covering challenge just as he got his shot away.
Sunderland then misjudged a long ball down the field, which allowed Muldoon to meet the ball in the box. Only a good block from Flanagan prevented him from scoring, and Smith went even closer moments later as he rose to meet a good cross to the back post from Stead, nodding his effort just wide of the post.
The second half began in much the same fashion as the first, and it was more good target-man play from Stead that opened up the first chance. His knock-down was moved across the box where it was met by Fallowfield, whose half-volley flashed wide of the near post.
Sunderland began to threaten towards the hour mark, O’Nien seeing a deflected effort saved by Cracknell after good work from Hume and Wyke in the build-up.
Gooch went within inches of opening the scoring moments later, beating Cracknell to a loose ball in the box before seeing his low effort from a narrow angle cleared off the line by Fallowfield.
With the season fast approaching, Parkinson opted against reshuffling his side for the stages, instead introducing just Will Grigg and Aiden O’Brien for the final quarter of the game.
O’Brien almost broke the deadlock with fifteen minutes to play, meeting a good low cross from Hume inside the box. O’Brien had done superbly to just delay his run and create the space, and was unfortunate to see his deft effort hit the far post as the goalkeeper stood rooted to his spot.
Parkinson continued to ring the changes towards the final whistle, and the Black Cats were finally able to break the deadlock with just over five minutes to play.
Substitute Grigg had been starved of service after replacing Wyke, but needed just that one glimpse of goal when released by a terrific through ball from Neil.
Grigg’s finish was superb, fired across Cracknell into the far corner.
The Black Cats were able to comfortably hold onto the lead and claim a third win of pre-season.
Starting XI: Burge, O’Nien, Willis (McLaughlin, 45), Wright, Flanagan, Hume; Power, Scowen (Dobson, 75); Maguire (O’Brien, 67), Gooch (Neil, 77), Wyke (Grigg, 67)