The story of the game as Sunderland draw against Benfica B in Portugal
Sunderland played out a 0-0 stalemate in their second pre-season game against Benfica B.
But there was much to consider for Sunderland supporters, with Jordan Willis and Ruben Sammut making their debuts.
Here’s how it went….
Sunderland XI: Burge, Willis, Ozturk, Baldwin, McLaughlin, Gooch, Robson, Leadbitter, Maguire, Wyke, Grigg
Jack Ross again fielded a back five, with Jordan Willis slotting in on the right-side of the three centre-backs on his Sunderland debut. Lynden Gooch started in an unfamiliar position on the left to allow Conor McLaughlin to play in his natural position.
The system differed slightly from SOuth Shields last Thursday in that Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg started together, with the Black Cats starting with a real determination to press.
They looked dangerous, though Bnefica B served early notice of their poise on the ball when they broke swiftly and forced a corner. Centre-back Pedro Alvaro got in front of his marker and forced Gooch to clear off the line at the back post.
They went close again when Rodrigo Conceicao, a talented winger with electric pace, pounced on a moment of indecision from Jack Baldwin and flew towards goal. His pace caught Alim Ozturk off guard and the Turk couldn’t make a challenge, Lee Burge doing well to cover and save.
The game had a good tempo and Sunderland offered plenty threat of their own, going close when Charlie Wyke showed great strength to throw his marker on the floor. It was a fair challenge but the striker just couldn’t find the time and space for his shot on his weaker foot, Diogo Garrido making an easy block from close range. The ball moved out to the left where Gooch whipped a ball in, Will Grigg heading just wide of the far post.
Sunderland continued to push for the opener and went close when Jack Baldwin gathered a free kick from Grant Leadbitter at the back post. He crossed for fellow centre-back Alim Ozturk, who connected well but headed over the bar.
After that lively start the tempo of the game dipped considerably, Benfica B gradually starting to see more of the ball, rotating nicely and testing Sunderland’s discipline.
Still, Burge was largely untroubled, called into action only when Conceicao again flew into space. He cut inside past Willis but his effort was weak and easily gathered.
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The Black Cats twice went clse as the interval neared, inadvertently to begin with. Gooch looked to cross to the back post and with the goalkeeper backpedaling, the ball dropped onto the bar.
Sunderland then broke at speed and after some clever link-up play with Grigg, Chris Maguire was brought down. He got up and whipped a free kick just over the bar.
Sunderland XI: Burge, O’Nien, Ozturk (Flanagan), Loovens, Baldwin, Gooch (Hume, 68), Robson (McGeouch, 68), Sammut, Maguire (Watmore, 68), Kimpioka, Wyke (Embleton, 68)
Ross made four changes at the start of the second half and it began at a predictably sedate pace, though Sunderland had by far the majority of possession and tempo.
They came close when Lynden Gooch and Benji Kimpioka combined well down the left, keeping a move alive and moving it infield. Ruben Sammut played it quickly to Alim Ozturk, who took it on the overlap and drove a firm effort just wide of the far post.
Ross rung the changes with just over 20 minutes to go, and Sunderland began to dominate the game after a poor half.
It had taken them a while to settle in to the new shape and they were fortunate that when Glenn Loovens misjudged a low cross into the box, substitute Kevin Csoboth fired wide.
The Black Cats lifted the tempo and almost scored when Elliot Embleton released Duncan Watmore with a wondeful through ball.
Watmore’s run was good and he beat the keeper, but saw his effort bounce off the bar. Sammut got to the loose ball first but his connection was poor and Benfica were able to clear easily.
The Portugese side had a couple of late openings but Glenn Loovens and Denver Hume snuffed out the danger easily enough.
Bookings: Robson, 33 Pinto, 38 Loovens, 55