Midtjylland 0 Sunderland 1: Johnson strike seals Danish success for Black Cats

Adam Johnson
Adam Johnson
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SUNDERLAND go into the new campaign on the back of a victorious pre-season game which was low on scoreline but high on plusses for Paolo Di Canio’s men.

Keiren Westwood - given his first outing of the summer - recorded the Black Cats’ first clean sheet of the brief friendly programme.

And in the first half in particular, Sunderland sparkled against opposition which are currently early leaders of the Danish superliga.

Adam Johnson’s solitary, early strike - a lovely finish worthy of winning any game - was all that separated the sides at the final whistle.

But as well as Johnson’s goal and Westwood’s clean sheet, there was the debut of Modibo Diakite - impressive as a second-half substitute - and more good work by new signings Valentin Roberge, Emanuele Giaccherini, Cabral and Jozy Altidore in a very competitive workout.

It was exactly what Di Canio would have wanted - all this and no fresh injuries from the game, although Jack Colback was in danger of being red-carded at one point, only for the referee to change his mind and allow him to be subbed.

All in all then, a satisfactory result and performance as thoughts of everyone at Sunderland turns to the opening match of the 2013-14 Premier League campaign next season.

Di Canio made three changes to the side which played both games against Spurs and Manchester City in Hong Kong last month.

Keiren Westwood would have been mightily relieved to have been given the nod in goal after Vito Mannone’s double start in Asia.

And the Irishman started in front of a reshuffled back four with Carlos Cuellar and Valentin Roberge replacing Craig Gardner and Wes Brown.

The head coach kept the same front six which played in the Barclays Asia Trophy tournament - perhaps hinting that will be his preferred midfield and attack once the new season gets under way..

The selection of the Danish superliga side for pre-season opposition was not an obvious one.

But they showed as early as the third minute that they were determined to be competitive, when Westwood had to get down smartly to save a shot from Marco Larsen from 15 yards out after a knockdown from Frank Kristensen.

Sunderland took a lead though in the seventh minute when Jozy Altidore backheeled neatly into the path of Adam Johnson after good work by Emanuele Giaccherini and Stephane Sessegnon.

The American’s deft touch teed up the England winger and Johnson curled a delicious left-foot shot into the top right-hand corner of Jonas Lossi’s goal from 18 yards out.

If the handful of travelling Sunderland fans in the ground - credit on them for making the trip - thought that would see the floodgates open, they were mistaken.

A war of attrition ensued with both sides putting in the sort of hard work which would have delighted their managers,

And in the 24th minute Westwood made a brilliant save to deny Kristensen an equaliser from a powerful point-blank header.

In an open, attacking game, Sunderland came close to doubling their lead three minutes after Altidore was fouled to the left of the home ‘D’ and Seb Larsson’s rasping free-kick cleared the wall but was driven straight at keeper Lossi.

And then left-back Jesper Juelsgard drove a low shot across the goal-line which almost sneaked into the far corner.

It had been an attractive opening half-hour for a pre-season friendly.

And though the rest of the half produced little in the way of goalscoring opportunities for either side, Di Canio would have been pleased with his side’s lead and the way they had acquitted themselves as they went into the break.

Just before the interval, the tricky Pione Sisto had lashed a shot just wide.

He did better after the break with a low sidefooted shot from a pull-back but once against Westwood moved quickly and got down well to keep danger at bay.

That was the only real talking point in a scrappier period of play that tooks us up the 58th minute when Cabral was replaced by Elhadji Ba.

On the hour mark FC Midtjylland changed their entire team - they have a league game at the weekend - and when play resumed Seb Larsson advanced ahead of the home defence but fired wide.

Shortly afterwards Connor Wickham replaced the still goal-less Altidore and found it equally hard-going up front.

There was complete confusion as the game reached towards its last quarter-of-an-hour when Colback appeared to be sent off by referee Mads-Kristoffer Kristoffersen.

But the official appeared to change his mind - allowing Craig Gardner to come on as a replacement instead - something which appeared to be a huge let-off for the Black Cats, who cannot afford to lose another full-back.

The game threatened to sparkle briefly in the closing stages with Sessegnon weaving his magic in the box, only to the crossbar from 10 yards in the closing stages when he seemed certain to score - Moberg Karlsson testing the keeper on the rebound.

In the end, Sunderland had to settle for victory by just the one-goal margin but all-in-all this was more than a satisfactory display to take into next weekend, when it all begins for real.

FC Midtjylland: Lossi, Juelsgard, Olsen, Sviatchenko, Larsen, Kirstensen,Banggaard, Sisto, Nielesen, Uzochukwu, Igboun. Subs: Haugaard, Lauridsen, Solgaard, Nattested, Romer, Gemmer, Lauridsen, Onuachu, Moller, Oliseh, Odeyemi, Ashiru, Owolagi.

Sunderland: Westwood, Cuellar, Colback (sub Gardner 74), Roberge (sub Diakite 71), O’Shea (c), Cabral (sub Ba 58), Larsson, Johnson (sub Moberg Karlsson 72), Giaccherini (sub Mandron 85), Sessegnon, Altidore (sub Wickham 64). Subs not used: Vaughan, Mannone.