Livingston 0-3 Sunderland: Lens thunderbolt rounds off comfortable Black Cats win

Khazri puts Sunderland ahead
Khazri puts Sunderland ahead
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Sunderland strolled to a comfortable 3-0 win at the Tony Macaroni Stadium on Wednesday night.

A stunning goal from Jeremain Lens with the last kick of the game, added the gloss to a performance which also saw Wahbi Khazri and Joel Asoro get on the scoresheet.

It was a far more sedate occasion than the spiky 2-2 draw with Hibernian last week, but another useful exercise for Simon Grayson who again was able to secure minutes for 22 of his squad.

Sunderland began the game without a recognised striker, Lynden Gooch asked to lead the line as the search for attacking firepower in the transfer market continues.

In the opening stages Sunderland looked comfortable in possession but understandably short on invention in the final third. Donald Love was pushed into an unfamiliar right wing berth as boss Simon Grayson priorities match fitness for his squad players.

Gooch led the line well, making a number of runs in behind to try and stretch the Livingston backline. Progress was slow, but the first meaningful attack on 20 minutes brought the opening goal. Livingston failed to deal with a long ball into the heart of their defence, a headed clearance deflecting off a team-mate and into the path of the young American. His left-footed strike was palmed away by Neil Alexander, but broke only as far as Wahbi Khazri.

His finish took a deflection on its way into the far corner.

The Tunisian was again the the star turn on show in the first half, delighting the travelling fans with a superb turn on his own byline as half time approached. The 26-year-old has been Sunderland's most effective creative presence by a distance in the opening games of the pre-season programme.

Gooch was again at the heart of the action as Sunderland went close to a second, teeing up Jack Rodwell, again playing in an attacking midfield role, but the midfielder's curling effort was comfortably over the bar.

The tempo of the game was pedestrian at best, Livingston's attacks largely limited to long balls from the back. It was, at least, the kind of challenge Simon Grayson is looking for as the club prepare for life in the Championship. Brendan Galloway and particularly Papy Djilobodji dealt with the aerial threat well, the latter making a fine block when the hosts finally had their first shot ten minutes from half-time.

Rodwell had Sunderland's best chance of the half when Donald Love found him with a clever cutback just before the break, but a fine block from Livi captain Craig Halkett turned it over the bar.

Simon Grayson waited fifteen minutes before changing the bulk of his Black Cats side, with Jeremain Lens the only half-time substitute. The Dutchman should have been in on goal soon after, but Gooch took long to tee him up in space, and the chance passed. Moments before leaving the action Rodwell again came close. He did well to charge down a clearance from Longridge but his finish was unconvincing, shooting straight at Alexander.

Nine changes for the visitors saw Josh Maja and Joel Asoro, an effective U23 partnership last season, lead the line and Maja was straight into the action, firing over from the edge of the area.

It was Asoro's first action of the season, and the 18-year-old was on the scoresheet when he bundled home Jeremain Lens' free-kick from inside the six-yard box. The Swedish striker did well to react so quickly but it was a terrible error from Livingston's substitute goalkeeper Gary Maley, spilling a weak cross delivered straight at him from distance.

The game appeared to be petering out towards the close until a dramatic intervention from Lens, who thumped home a thunderbolt from 25 yards. The keeper was unmoved, as was the Dutchman himself as he strolled away.

It was a rare moment of outstanding quality in a useful but otherwise sedate exercise.

SAFC: Mika; Jones (Lens, 45), Galloway (Matthews 60), O’Shea (Kone, 60) , Djilobodji (Beadling 60); Love (Ledger, 60), N’Dong (Cattermole, 60), Rodwell (Embleton, 60), Gibson (Honeyman, 60); Gooch (Asoro, 60), Khazri (Maja, 60)