Sunderland's transfer team assemble after some moments of real quality: Behind the scenes at Harrogate Town
Thousands of Sunderland fans will have watched the win over Harrogate Town via live streams – but there are always those moments the cameras don’t capture.
The win at The EnviroVent Stadium was the Black Cats’ best performance of pre-season thus far, and came without a number of key players.
Aiden McGeady, Bailey Wright and Lynden Gooch all missed the game, in which some of the club’s other players stood up to the plate.
Elliot Embleton’s brace put Sunderland in command before Carl Winchester and Ellis Taylor rounded-off the scoring.
But what moments might supporters watching from home have missed? We take a look...
SUNDERLAND’S TRANSFER TEAM ASSEMBLE
With the game having been declared as a behind closed doors fixture at extremely short notice – something was entirely out of Sunderland’s control – there were only a limited number of club officials allowed access to the fixture.
And for the Black Cats, that included owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, sporting director Kristjaan Speakman and head of recruitment Stuart Harvey.
The trio watched the game from the stands before then heading pitchside for a post-match debrief with head coach Lee Johnson
While their discussions at that point will likely have focused upon the 4-0 win, they will soon turn to trying to secure some new signings.
Johnson said post-match that he was hopefully that Sunderland were close to making further breakthroughs in the market, with the League One opener against Wigan Athletic now just a fortnight away.
Here’s hoping that is the case.
DAN NEIL’S NEW ROLE
As was the case last season, Dan Neil has been one of the real standout performers in Sunderland’s pre-season campaign.
The midfielder caught the eye at York in midweek, scoring in the process, and it was expected that he would continue in the centre of the park as the club returned to North Yorkshire.
Indeed, even when the teamsheet saw the 19-year-old wearing number three it was the general view that Luke O’Nien would start at left-back.
But Neil was handed that role and, despite a few shaky moments early on (which are to be expected from someone so young playing in an unfamiliar role) he had another fine afternoon.
He got forward well and combined to some good effect with Jack Diamond, while he was defensively resolute – thanks to some vocal orders from Tom Flanagan, at times.
While his long-term future no doubt lies in midfield this is another interesting string to add to his bow.
JACK DIAMOND’S WARM WELCOME
Diamond was another who impressed at The EnviroVent Stadium – a ground which he is no stranger to.
The winger spent time on loan with Harrogate during the 2019/20 season, helping the side to promotion from the National League in the process.
He was warmly greeted on his first return to his former club, with manager Simon Weaver and assistant boss Paul Thirlwell chatting with the youngster pre-match.
While that loan spell was undoubtedly good for Diamond, this season he looks set to play a key role in the Sunderland side rather than head elsewhere again.
ROSS STEWART’S ASSETS COME TO THE FORE
While he may not have found himself on the scoresheet at Harrogate – despite having a couple of golden opportunities – this was another promising display from Ross Stewart.
The striker ran the channels well and created plenty of space for those around him, which the likes of Diamond, Embleton and O’Brien did well to exploit.
His aerial presence is a useful weapon to have too, and was something that Sunderland used to good effect in the first half.
When winning goal kicks, the Black Cats looked to go long (with Anthony Patterson’s distribution generally very good) - with the aim of Stewart, who began in a very high position, winning the initial ball.
Then the aforementioned trio were able to buzz around and pick up the second ball, getting Sunderland high up the field and with numbers to sustain an attack.
Stewart is set to play a key role this season and his showing in North Yorkshire suggests he can bring plenty of intelligence to this side – as well as his obvious physical attributes.
THE MOMENT OF REAL QUALITY
Sunderland’s third goal was a moment of real quality, and one of the moves that led Johnson to say post-match that the team was begin to look like a side in his mould.
After a clever piece of trickery from Diamond out wide, the winger found O’Brien who in turn slipped a fine ball into space into the penalty area.
Winchester was clever enough to make his run into that space and finished calmly.
It’s those kind of sequences of play that we haven’t seen enough of from Sunderland in recent years, and which fans will be hoping to see more of come August 7.
THE NEW SIGNING IN THE STANDS
While Corry Evans and Callum Doyle once again impressed on the field, their fellow summer recruit had to settle for a place in the stands.
Alex Pritchard travelled with the squad to Harrogate but is not yet ready for selection – with Johnson previously saying that the game against Hull City was likely going to be the midfielder’s first outing.
Pritchard missed the trip to Scotland after testing positive for COVID-19 but is now able to return to the squad bubble.
He will need plenty of work before the season though, although Sunderland fans will no doubt be anticipating their first glimpse of the summer signing.