Sunderland rounded off pre-season with a solid performance as Adam Johnson's early effort proved to be enough to see off Danish Superliga leaders FC Midtjylland. The Herning-based side put up a strong resistance, having several chances of their own, but the Black Cats quality shone through, with an excellent performance from Emanuele Giaccherini standing out in particular.
Giaccherini is, of course, part of Sunderland's new look attacking front four, alongside fellow new signing Jozy Altidore, Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson, and supporters excitement about this front line will have only been intensified by the excellent opening goal, with all four playing their part. Seb Larsson found Italian winger Giaccherini on the left hand side, who dinked a lovely ball over the top to Sessegnon. The 'African Gandalf' headed back to Altidore, whose back-heel found Johnson running into the centre. The England international found space to shoot and dispatched a delicious curling effort into the left hand corner of the net. With seven minutes on the clock, Sunderland were ahead.
Midtjylland are already three games into the new Superliga season, and have won all three of them, so it was no surprise to see them respond well to going a goal down. Kieren Westwood, making his first start of pre-season, pressed his claim for the number one spot by making a stunning point blank save from a Frank Kristensen header.
Another first time starter was Valentin Roberge, and the Frenchman lived up to his reputation as a cultured centre half. A very good passer, he always looked to play from the back, and almost put Giaccherini through in one instance. He used his strength very effectively and was a hindrance to veteren striker Kristensen throughout. However he couldn't stop Jesper Juelsgard from getting free on the left hand side and firing a cross-come-shot across the goal.
At the other end of the pitch, Sunderland's front four continued to cause the Danish side problems. Jozy Altidore led the line very effectively again, winning a free-kick on the 28 minute mark. Larsson's effort was powerful, but straight at the keeper. Giaccherini again proved a threat, receiving the ball at his feet, avoiding a tackle and then striking a shot straight into the palms of Midtjylland keeper Jonas Lossl. The half time whistle went shortly afterwards and the away side went into the break in front.
The Danish side came out in the second half revitalised, and largely dominated the opening stages. Early on after the break Izunna Uzochukwu took advantage of Carlos Cuellar's lack of game time to go past the right-back with ease and drag a pass back to Pione Sisto, who shot straight at Westwood. Sisto proved to be a big threat, cutting inside from the left just a few minutes later to shoot just wide, before pouncing on a mix up between Westwood and Cabral, only for his shot to be blocked.
Sunderland produced an attack of their own, with Sessegnon setting Larsson free on the right. The Sweden, faced with a difficult angle, fired his shot over the bar. Giaccherini was at the heart of everything. The former Juve man use his skill to dribble past players effectively, and his delivery was top-notch. A cross for Altidore missed the US strikers head by inches.
The game slowed down significantly after the hour mark, when the home side chose to use the friendly environment to change their entire team. These pre-season conditions were on show again after Jack Colback was sent off for two bookable offences. A gentlemen's agreement was reached between the two sides and the referee, and Craig Gardner was allowed to replace the left back, rather than Sunderland having to play on with ten men.
With a youthful, inexperienced Midtjylland side on the pitch, the visitors never really threatened for the rest of the match, and the Black Cats had several chances in the closing stages to double their lead. Italian international Giaccherini showed excellent skill to keep the ball in on the left hand side, and delivered a cross that just eluded two players; substitutes Wickham and Moberg Karlsson. The Confederations Cup star then put Sessegnon through, but his effort cannoned off the bar.
Midtjylland, to their credit, still pushed for an equaliser, with their keeper coming up for a final set-piece, but it was to no avail, and the Black Cats ended their pre-season with a win. With this being the last friendly before the new season starts, attention now turns to the campaign opener against Fulham in ten days. Based on performances so far, supporters can go into it with a cautious optimism.