The pre-season shindig-a-roo (that one is for Simon) continued tonight as the Sunderland squad went searching for match sharpness at Victoria Park in a much-deserved testimonial match for 'Pools stalwart Richie Humphreys. Well, half of the Sunderland squad did anyway, with the other half due to play Darlington on Wednesday.
Perhaps notably, Kieran Richardson again started the game at left back, with last season's custodian of the position, Phil Bardsley, continuing in his favoured right back position. Meanwhile, the latest square peg to be rammed into the round hole on the left hand side of the midfield was Sebastian Larsson.
With the big kick-off to the Premier League season under two weeks away, this was a great chance to shrug-off some summer ring rust, but not before they had to shrug off an early Hartlepool goal. Not content with being a thorn in the side of Sunderland in Newcastle colours over the years, Nolberto Solano was up to his old tricks again, this time in the much palatable blue and white stripes, by slipping the ball past Simon Mignolet after just seven minutes.
Sunderland's response was positive, with Stephane Sessegnon combining well with strike partner Asamoah Gyan before dragging his volleyed effort wide. Lee Cattermole was next to threaten the Hartlepool goal just minutes later following a slick passing build-up, with Jack Colback at its heart, but his long range effort was easily dealt with by a comfortable Scott Flinders.
Sunderland didn't have to wait too long for some joy in front of goal, however, and when the equalizer came it did so in the form of a welcome return to the score sheet for Asamoah Gyan. The ball fell to Sebastian Larsson after good link-up play by Bardsley and Elmohamady on the right flank. The Swede flighted the ball over for Gyan who, despite hints of offside, directed his header past Flinders and into the net via the post.
Colback, restored to the centre of midfield following a frustrating spell on the left wing this summer, was stamping his authority on the game. And when Sunderland took the lead following a bright opening to the second half, it was little surprise that he was heavily involved. Receiving a pass from Kieran Richardson, Colback pushed on into the box himself before slipping a ball under the 'keeper.
Sunderland were not finished there, and put the game to bed with a third goal nine minutes later. This time it was Sebastian Larsson to trouble the scorers. Stephane Sessegnon, the undoubted star of the show, cut the ball back for Larsson to open his Sunderland account (ok, not properly, but still) with a crisp curled finish. As the game meandered towards it's inevitable conclusion, Flinders produced a memorable save to deny Larsson a second.
With such a spate of transfer activity this summer, competition for places is starting to heat up. Jack Colback most certainly gave a big reminder to messrs Bruce, Gardner, Cattermole, and Vaughan that he is very much in there fighting for a central midfield position with an eye-catching performance. Sebastian Larsson gave Bruce food for thought regarding the troublesome left wing position, especially with talk abound that Steed Malbranque may be about to move on, and Anton Ferdinand, clearly benefiting from the experienced and commanding influence of Wes Brown alongside him, continues to impress.
But the final word must go to the man-of-the-moment Richie Humphreys. This game marked what is, in the modern age certainly, an remarkable achievement of ten years loyal service, and rarely has a standing ovation been any more richly deserved.
Team: Mignolet; Bardsley, Richardson, Ferdinand, Brown, Elmohamady, Cattermole, Colback, Larsson, Sessegnon, Gyan
Unused Subs: Laing, Carson, Reed, Cook, Tounkara.