Sunderland just started to find a little pre-season form with a 1-1 draw with Derby County at Pride Park. Still not ideal, you could say, but moving in the right direction. In terms of performance, it was certainly an improvement.
There was a goal - an actual goal - which was a nice change.
Here is what we made of it...
What The Gaffer Said
After the frustrations of Hartlepool and Helsingborgs, Martin O'Neill seemed to be in more positive mood despite Derby's late equalizer.
I am not overly concerned about the result.
There is still plenty of time before the games get into competitive mode and that'll be the case for the next nine months.
There's always a bit of disappointment when you concede a goal, but I thought overall our performance was a bit better.
There are plenty of things to work on but there's not a team in the Premier League that hasn't got something to work on - there's plenty of room for improvement.
We played some really nice stuff and what we need to do is prolong those periods where we are doing well and try and stay with it.
It was a good goal for James [McClean]. The goalkeeper might be little bit displeased with how it went in but it was a good move. He's driven forward and crossed on shot and the ball's gone in off the goalkeeper.
It's important for the players that have just came back such as John O'Shea, Seb Larsson and Ahmed Elmohamady, to play as much as they can at this stage so that psychologically they feel it is as if they have played 90 minutes and get prepared for the season.
So overall the manager saw considerably more positives to focus on than the last couple of friendlies, which is great to hear.
Was it just the performance that is leaving O'Neill in buoyant mood though, or has he perhaps been lifted by a breakthrough or two in the transfer market? Steven Fletcher seems determined to force a move through himself, but may be there is something else on the horizon too? Lets hope so. (MG)
Elmo Back In Contention?
He isn't an especially popular player with the fans and he has even been known to incite our own mild-mannered David Boyle into a trademark fury pee, but Ahmed Elmohamady certainly gave Martin O'Neill something to think about at Pride Park.
The Egyptian produced a dynamic performance full of pace, versatility, and running, and found a little quality from somewhere when he was on the ball too.
With Seb Larsson ahead of him in the pecking order and O'Neill rumoured to be on the lookout for reinforcements in wide positions - as well as citing James McClean as a candidate for Elmo's favoured right wing position - it looks a long way back for Elmohamady right now but stranger things have happened. (MG)
Meyler - The New Mr Versatile?
Speaking of players who have struggled to really establish themselves since Martin O'Neill's arrival, it was was interesting to see David Meyler once again deployed for a shift or two at full back. Meyler has now spent time in the position in three of the four games he has played in pre-season.
Meyler's desperation to stay at Sunderland is clear for everyone to see. He embraces the club like very few before him have. But he suffers for the fact he missed so much football with injury and during his absence Steve Bruce say fit to over-populate the central midfield area.
O'Neill's liking of Lee Cattermole and Jack Colback is quite apparent, so Meyler may find opportunities once again limited. If he could add that little bit of versatility to his game to be able to be relied upon to cover multiple positions, though, he will likely make himself very attractive to a mid-table club determined to adhere to the financial fair play regulations.
As a tall, powerful player who is full or running and has a penchant for a tackle he could find some joy as a right back, especially under Martin O'Neill. It will be interesting to see whether this trend of using him there continues. (MG)
Fletcher Will Love It Here
If in the stands Steven Fletcher was hidden in a overcoat, glasses and fake nose watching us, he must have been licking his chops at the prospect of coming here.
McClean, Larsson and even Elmohamady put in a series of fine balls into the box which nobody seemed to be able to get on the end of sadly of us, otherwise the score could have been a huge one as opposed to the 1-1 draw we were served up at Pride Park.
Once again, the game highlighted that we need someone in the box, which is where Fletcher does all of his best work, and indeed the vast majority of all his work. The supply line is still a good one. (SW)
Last night was a great opportunity for Fraizer Campbell which he simply didn't take. With Connor Wickham sitting out, and Steven Fletcher not yet signed, Campbell had a great opportunity to remind Mr O'Neill that he still has something to offer in the out-and-out striker role, and like many of his chances last night, that opportunity went begging.
As we pointed out above, crosses and attempts to get the former Manchester United man on the end of things presented themselves all night, but all to often he was either out of position or too slow to react.
When you factor in Campbell's approaching the end of his contract, you really want to see more from him. Otherwise a much talked about move to Blackburn Rovers might not be the worst thing in the world for either us or the player. (SW)