Phil Parkinson has firm selection message for Sunderland squad as he reflects on Harrogate win
Phil Parkinson insists he has not settled on his strongest team after Sunderland sealed a narrow win in their final pre-season friendly.
Parkinson opted to name what looked to be his preferred XI for the clash with Harrogate Town, naming the core of the side who featured in the vast majority of games in the early months of 2020.
Josh Scowen was rewarded for his fine pre-season form with a place in midfield alongside Max Power, but it was otherwise the same partnerships that Parkinson has preferred for much of his tenure on Wearside.
Parkinson, though, conceded that his substitutes have again given him much to ponder.
Will Grigg scored the winner with a clinical finish after receiving a fine through ball from the again lively youngster Dan Neil.
Summer signing Aiden O’Brien also made an impression after coming on in the second half, almost scoring his first goal when a low effort from inside the box struck the foot of the far post.
Parkinson had approached the game ‘as if it was the first of the season’, but says there is still much to think about before the visit of Hull City in the Carabao Cup first round next weekend.
The Black Cats boss is hoping to complete the signing of Kosovan defender Arbenit Xhemajli before then, further strengthening his options.
Another striker and cover at left-back are also positions he wants to fill before the transfer window shuts, but he is unsure whether he will able to do that before next Saturday, adding after the win over Harrogate that he wanted to ensure he left room in his squad should any quality additions become available in the late stages of the transfer window.
“In my mind now, have I decided on a team for the start of the season, no,” he said.
“Today has given me food for thought. We treated this game as if it was the start of the season in terms of the substitutions.
“Obviously we made four in the end but we were making subs to win the game, not for minutes.
“Those lads who got on showed that freshness and real quality.
“There was a lot to learn today for us both individually and collectively.
“There's places up for grabs and we want to add one or two [from the transfer market] to that as well.
“There's a lot of thinking to do.
“It was two moments of real quality [for the goal].
“Both of them have showed us that right through pre-season. Dan's weight of pass makes him a real asset, and it was a sharp finish. Will is fitter than he has been for a long time, he's got an extra half a yard and it was a great finish.
“I was pleased with Aiden O'Brien as well.
"He gave us a real lift of energy and was unlucky with that effort that hit the post.”
Parkinson conceded his side had struggled in the opening stages of their final pre-season friendly, but said he was pleased with their persistence in earning the win late on.
“It was a hard-fought win for us,” he said.
“I thought we started slackly on the ball, gave it away too cheaply.
“Credit to Harrogate, they came out the traps, pressed us well. We didn't spin them round and played a bit short.
“Gradually we got better and started to make the pitch big in possession, got ourselves in good positions without really threatening.
“We had to wear them down in the second half and as I said to the lads, any win is hard fought.
“Today was that, you have to give Harrogate credit.
“It was a tough game but it's always good to get another win.
“I said to the lads at half-time, we know what it's like here,” he added.
“Whether there's 30,000 here or whether it's behind closed doors, teams will come here and it's 'wow, it's fantastic to be here'.
“I don't think we played like that to begin with but we got it going.
“That's why I say there's good lessons to be learned.
“We have to learn to deal with that pressing early on, but we had passages of good play and wore them down.
“I was pleased that we stuck at as a group. In the second half they went very direct as well, so we had to concentrate.
“We know we'll come up against that style of play when the season starts as well.”
Parkinson also allayed any injury concerns, after both Jordan Willis and Scowen were withdrawn during the 1-0 win.
Neither look like serious injuries at this stage.
The Black Cats boss added that he hoped Elliot Embleton would be able to train next week, after he was again missing with a thigh injury picked up in the win over Gateshead last week.
“Jordan just felt his groin tighten during a clearance, and we obviously weren’t going to take any risks with him,” Parkinson said.
“Josh has just picked up a bruised foot/ankle in a challenge, but it doesn’t look too bad at the moment.
“Elliot [Embleton] hasn’t trained yet but he should be back running on Monday.”