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Peace Cup 2012: What We Learned In South Korea

Sunderland came third in the Peace Cup, but what did we learn from this preseason sojourn? Here's that question answered.
Sunderland came third in the Peace Cup, but what did we learn from this preseason sojourn? Here's that question answered.

So, another pre-season jaunt comes to an end. A brief stay in South Korea may not have thrown up the most convincing of results - a disappointing loss and a last-ditch victory are scarcely something to write home about - but Sunderland's foray into the 2012 Peace Cup has been far from worthless.

Suwon's searing heat and stifling humidity will have done plenty to enhance Martin O'Neill's men's fitness, while the opportunity to watch his troops play alongside one another after the recent summer break will have given the manager himself to assess where his squad's very real weaknesses - and perhaps strengths - truly lie.

With that in mind, here's what we've learned from the past week's Asian trip:

4-3-3 Is The Way Forward

Used in both games, the favoured system of Martin O'Neill's previous managerial career looks once again set to take precedent for the Ulsterman. As shown most glaringly in the second half against Seongnam, 4-4-2 is simply inadequate - for this particular Sunderland side anyway - when it comes to ball retention and midfield control.

By contrast, the 4-3-3 employed by O'Neill, one which reverts to a 4-5-1 when defending, seems a perfect fit. It requires a dominant man to lead the line, hence the continued pursuit of Steven Fletcher; though, Connor Wickham did his own cause no harm in this respect. With O'Neill still said to be looking for a pacey right-winger to mirror James McClean, and Stephane Sessegnon looking ever more likely to remain on Wearside for a little while longer, a three-pronged attack from midfield anchored by Lee Cattermole and Jack Colback looks certain to be the Black Cats' preferred choice next season.

Wes Brown Could Be Running Out Of Chances

It is a shame to admit it, but Wes Brown's days at Sunderland, and in top-level football, could well be numbered. Never a stranger to the treatment room, Brown disappointingly seems unable to shake off his injury bug.

Clearly favoured by O'Neill - "he's an important player for us" - Brown's body continues to let him down. A hefty spell on the sidelines last year meant he managed to make an appearance in barely over half the side's games, and his injury in the opening half of yesterday's tussle with Groningen is seemingly a cause for serious concern.

Though not setting the world on fire in Korea, Brown's quality is undoubted. The problem is that he is quickly becoming far too injury-laden to be seen as reliable. With Carlos Cuellar signed and continuous rumours linking the club with another central defender, not to mention that position being fairly well catered for already, Brown could soon find himself well down the pecking order.

Connor Wickham Looks In The Mood

Perennially in danger of being a victim of 'Craig Gordon Syndrome', Wickham's displays in Korea suggest he won't be weighed down by his transfer fee - regardless of the detractors it brings. Against Seongnam he was brilliant up front, strong in the air and producing good hold-up play - his chest down and flick around the corner to play in Kieran Richardson was one of the trip's outstanding individual moments.

Another good display followed against Groningen, even if he wasn't provided with much support, and he notched a goal as his justified reward. Still only 19, it would be wrong to heap the team's attacking responsibilities entirely on his young shoulders, but he certainly looks capable of producing the impact last season promised before injury stopped him in his tracks.

Ryan Noble Might Just Have It

It would be daft to claim one goal in a pre-season friendly is enough to suggest Ryan Noble will go on to great things, but his last-minute winner yesterday was dripping in quality.

Where previously Noble has seemed almost reluctant to really stamp his authority on games (though, it must be said that he has been given few opportunities to do so), in Korea he threw caution out of the window, with devastating results. His finish was one of supreme authority and confidence, and showcased the qualities he has long been championed as possessing.

With O'Neill's likely system needing a strong target man up front, Noble is unlikely to find himself thrust into a starting role any time soon. That said, if he can produce the sort of explosive impact seen against Groningen, he could become a perfect fit for a role as a late substitute, stretching tired defences and capable of emphatic finishes. Expected to go out on loan again before the Black Cats flew to Suwon, Noble might just have caused a rethink in his manager's plans.

The Academy Of Light Is Bearing Fruit

Having commanded a huge fee for Jordan Henderson and a sizeable one for Martyn Waghorn, as well as having seen Jack Colback become a quality first-team player, Sunderland have already made clear the merits of a good academy.

What the Peace Cup showed was that the AoL's recent successes may not be limited to just those three. As stated, Ryan Noble showed his potential quality with a match-winning goal, but the performances of some other youngsters may have given Martin O'Neill reason to think before delving into the transfer market to bolster his squad.

Against Seongnam chances were limited, but the Groningen match saw a number of youngsters given their chance. Craig Lynch was deployed on the left-wing and looked fairly impressive during his hour on the field, and Ben Wilson was given a starting berth in goal. Though conceding two goals was unlikely to have been on his agenda, the keeper pulled off some difficult stops, and was hardly at fault for either goal.

John Egan's replacement of the injured Wes Brown saw two goals leaked in quick succession, but he recovered well from the initial setback and looked assured from thereon, even when moved to right-back to accommodate the introduction of Louis Laing. The latter himself looked comfortable, as did Jordan Pickford when he replaced Wilson in goal. Noble, of course, stole the show - but Sunderland's current crop of youngsters have ably staked their claim for greater involvement this coming season.

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