What we learned at Accrington Stanley as pre-season friendly shows best and worst of Sunderland
Sunderland’s 2-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley led to head coach Alex Neil concluding he had seen the ‘best and worst’ of his side.
After seemingly being in control of the contest in the first half, with Ross Stewart’s penalty putting them ahead, the Black Cats were made to pay for some costly errors, with a Sean McConville spot kick and Korede Adedoyin’s finish altering the result.
Here are some of the things we learned from the match:
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While Sunderland’s first-half performance was encouraging, their progressive play wasn’t reflected in the scoreline.
It took until the 45th minute for the visitors to break the deadlock when Jack Clarke was fouled by Harvey Rodgers and Stewart converted the subsequent penalty.
Before that, Sunderland had squandered some excellent chances, most notably when goalkeeper Lukas Jensen made a fine double save to deny Stewart and Clarke, before Patrick Roberts scooped a golden opportunity over the bar.
Neil’s side will have to be more clinical in the Championship.
The side need to react much better
At the other end of the pitch, Sunderland appeared in control until midway through the second half, with Bailey Wright and Daniel Ballard looking comfortable at centre-back.
Yet it was Wright’s costly error in the 63rd minute which allowed the game to turn.
The Australian defender was closed down by McConville when in possession, before bringing down the Stanley wideman in the box.
After McConville had converted the resulting penalty, Sunderland looked vulnerable at the back, especially from long throw-ins and set-pieces when their defending was frantic at times. Adedoyin’s winner came from a direct throw-in into the box.
Sunderland will face many setbacks in a higher division but can’t let one mistake lead to more.
A few positions still up for grabs
While Neil has said these friendly matches don’t have any bearing on his side’s Championship opener against Coventry, you suspect the team which started here was close to his first-choice XI.
It would be a surprise if players such as Anthony Patterson, Dennis Cirkin, Ballard, Corry Evans, Alex Pritchard, Roberts and Stewart didn’t start against the Sky Blues, yet there are still a few positions up for grabs.
Lynden Gooch’s selection at right-back ahead of Trai Hume was an interesting call, after the former also started at Bradford four days earlier.
Neil’s selection against Coventry will also be influenced by the opposition, who consistently played with a back three last season.
Ballard continues to impress
One player who does look set to start against Coventry is new signing Ballard, who produced another impressive performance and, at this moment, looks like the team’s first-choice centre-back.
The 22-year-old was progressive with his passing, and almost scored a brilliant goal after a one-two with Roberts, while he positioned himself well at the back.
It was also interesting that Ballard started as the left-sided centre-back with Wright alongside him.
More changes expected at Hartlepool
After making nine changes to his team here, we can expect more alterations when Sunderland face Hartlepool in their final pre-season fixture on Monday.
Neil is keen to give all his players a similar amount of game time ahead of the new campaign.
It was confirmed after the match that Carl Winchester was absent through illness but is likely to return against Hartlepool.