Duncan Watmore makes goalscoring return as Sunderland finish dramatic day with cup win
Duncan Watmore made a goalscoring return to action as Sunderland began life without Jack Ross by sealing a narrow win.
A tepid first half against Grimsby Town gave way to a frenetic second, with five goals scored in a 3-2 win.
Will Grigg scored his second goal of the season to seal the victory in the last ten minutes of the game.
Low down in Sunderland’s list of priorities long before the campaign began, the contest paled into even greater insignificance with the news of Jack Ross’ departure.
The team was led by James Fowler and John Potter, themselves facing a very obviously uncertain future.
There was plenty of interest in the XI chosen nevertheless, an experienced side to preserve and improve match fitness before the trip to Wycombe next weekend.
The only real youth came in the form of centre-back Brandon Taylor on debut, and Bali Mumba, picked in the right-back role he has been playing in both U23 and international action so far this season.
The Black Cats started the better of the two sides, sticking to their gameplan of trying to release their forward players with early balls over the top.
It almost produced an early goal when Lee Burge released Marc McNulty with an extraordinary kick from hand, but the Scot took too long on the ball and was challenged before he could square for the onrushing Duncan Watmore.
Despite being penalised for a couple of soft early fouls, Watmore looked lively on his return to action.
He went close on the half hour mark, advancing on goal and drawing a good save from the early goalkeeper. The loose ball found its way to McNulty at the back post but his header was straight at James McKeown and easy to gather.
Though Sunderland had the better of the play, a couple of speculative efforts from Grant Leadbitter had been their only real attempts at goal.
They went close shortly after when George Dobson looked to have released WIll Grigg in the box, but the defence were just able to recover in time.
Grimsby had offered little threat though they did grow into the game as the half developed, and Matt Green ought to have done better just before the break when he headed a cross straight at Burge.
The start of the second half saw an immediate increase in tempo from the home side, with Watmore forcing a save as he met a cross from Denver Hume and turned it low towards goal.
He fired over from the edge of the area shortly after as the Black Cats tried to turn the screw.
They seemed in control of the contest as McNulty went close with an effort from the edge of the box, but found themselves behind when substitute Jake Hessenthaler played an excellent first time cross, Green getting free of his marker and firing past Burge with a first-time effort.
The response was almost immediate, Watmore gathering another Hume cross and hooting over on the turn.
He got his reward for an energetic return after reacting sharply to a Dobson effort that was spilled back into the area by McKeown. His thumping, first-time finish put the Black Cats on level terms with 20 minutes to play.
The second goal game eight minute later, Luke O’Nien freed with a wonderful pass behind the Grimsby defence. He crossed for Marc McNulty and though Elliot Hewitt slid to block his effort, he could only turn the ball into the roof of the net.
That lead last just two minutes, however, as the Black Cats were unable to block a cross that Elliot Whitehouse fired into the back of the net.
An increasingly frenetic game turned again when Hume played another excellent cross into the box, Will Grigg dropping off his marker well and heading in well.
The home side were able to see the rest of the game out with no real alarm as they started their leasing.com campaign with a win.
Sunderland XI: Burge; Mumba (Gooch, 81), Taylor, Lynch, Hume; O’Nien, Leadbitter, Dobson, Watmore (Connelly, 88); McNulty, Grigg (Kiernan, 90)
Subs: Patterson, De Bock, Bainbridge, Neil
Grimsby Town: McKeown; Davis, Green, Whitehouse, Cook, Rose (Hessenthaler, 55), Vernam (Carowell, 62), Ogbu, Ring (Waterfall, 83), Hewitt, Pollock
Subs: Gibson, Carowell, Starbuck, Adlard, Russell
Bookings: Dobson, 70