This is how it played out as Sunderland are held to a draw by Preston North End

Sunderland were held to a 0-0 draw by Preston North End as their lack of strikers told for the first time.

The Black Cats played some excellent football and dominated possession throughout but were unable to carve out enough clear chances to find a way past Freddie Woodman.

Head Coach Tony Mowbray had resisted the urge to make changes to his XI, though there was one slight tweak that saw Elliot Embleton push up into the false nine role. He almost put his side ahead six minutes in when Luke O’Nien played in Jack Clarke with an excellent switch of play, but Woodman clawed the cross clear with Embleton waiting at the back post.

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Preston were pressing in numbers and with real aggression, making for an open start. Pritchard drove an effort wide after good play from Alese and the left back then made an outstanding intervention in his own box, dropping onto the line to clear a goal bound effort from Ben Whiteman after Sunderland failed to clear their lines from a corner.

Sunderland defender Luke O'Nien in action

After that the game settled into a rhythm and there was little between the two, a number of niggling fouls disrupting the flow. Sunderland were dominating possession but with no one to stretch the Preston defence, they were happy to sit in and try to play on the break.

Chances were few and far between but around the half hour mark Sunderland began to start playing through the press and the game opened up for them. Clarke drove infield and curled an effort wide of the far post, before an excellent counter ended with Alese doing the same, with Embleton again just inches away from back a crucial connection at the back post.

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Then it was the turn of Roberts to hit one just wide of the far post, Woodman beaten had it just dropped inside.

Woodman made an excellent save from Embleton moments before the break as the Black Cats ended the half well on top, their neat passing play now taking place around the opposition box and brining real opportunities as a result.

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Preston had threatened intermittently on the break throughout, but had never found a way past O’Nien and Batth.

The second half started in much the same vein but the Black Cats were indebted to Anthony Patterson for a superb reflex save when a free kick was launched into the box from deep. Sunderland couldn’t clear their lines and Evans thought he had scored when he rifled the loose ball towards the roof of the net.

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Sunderland responded with an excellent counter, Roberts jinking inside and firing just wide.

It was the hosts continuing to dominate possession but chances were beginning to dry up and so as he had done at Watford, Mowbray looked to the talented attacking youngsters on his bench. Though the added energy was welcome the pattern of the game stayed much the same, Sunderland getting to the final third easily enough but struggling to find the killer instinct when they got there.

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Preston’s threat remained almost exclusively from set pieces, Gooch heading an effort from Storey off the line with just over ten minutes to play.

A long ball from O’Nien released Bennette in a promising position shortly after, but Woodman was able to make the save from Roberts.

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Sunderland continued to get into some dangerous areas without finding a way through and the game ended in stalemate.

Sunderland XI: Patterson; Gooch, O’Nien, Batth, Alese; Evans (Ba, 60), Neil, Embleton (Embleton, 60); Roberts, Clarke (Dajaku, 80), Pritchard (Bennette, 70)

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Subs: Bass, Matete, Wright

Preston North End XI: Woodman, Fernandez, Cunningham, Whiteman, Lindsay, Browne, Evans (Parrott, 66), Brady (McCann, 85), Storey, Ledson (Woodburn, 72), Riis

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Subs: Johnson, Diaby, Cornell, Potts

Bookings: Lindsay, 54 Roberts, 59

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Attendance: 41,275