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Darlington FC (a) - FIVE Things We Learned From Pre-Season Opener

Yes, it was largely about fitness and, yes, we played a side seven leagues below us in the pyramid but what did we learn from our 5-1 victory over Darlington FC?

Nigel Roddis

1. Steven Fletcher is fully fit.

After suffering with various injuries throughout last season many Sunderland fans were prepared to cash in on the Scottish striker, who cost us twelve million pounds when he was signed by Martin O'Neill in the summer of 2012.

When he did play last season he looked unfit and barely motivated and his place in the team was understandably under threat. He played in just twenty league games last season, scoring only three goals, and it was feared that the Steven Fletcher that played so well for us in his first season at the club had come and gone - thankfully, there was something refreshing about his performance on Saturday.

Fletcher, clearly fully fit after so long on the treatment table, looked full of energy on Saturday afternoon and covered every blade of grass, giving the Darlington defenders - in particular former Gateshead man Liam Hatch - a torrid time as he notched twice with two close range finishes in the forty-five minutes that he played in.

I think that the fact he's scored two goals in his first game - regardless of the standard of opposition - is crucial to how Fletcher's pre-season progresses. Scoring goals breeds confidence for any forward and I'd like to think that the best of Steven Fletcher is yet to come under Gus Poyet. His talent in the six yard box is obvious and if we can get our creative players to start finding him in those little pockets of space he tends to get himself into we might see a much improved forward in the coming season.

2. Jordi Gomez likes to create things.

Simply put, but that's how I'd best describe the performance of the Spanish midfielder.

Gomez looked to have a competent range of passing and he was always looking to play the forwards and wingers in behind the Darlington defence, which is promising as we've lacked a midfielder that isn't scared to play positive forward passes for quite some time.

The forty-five minutes that Gomez was on the pitch was a rare treat. He gave his non-league opponents a masterclass and ran the show from the centre of the pitch, spraying the ball side to side before finishing the game with a stunning strike from the edge of the area which nearly burst the net.

The question, of course, is whether or not he can repeat that kind of performance on a regular basis in the Premier League, but there was much to take from Gomez's display this weekend. He's going to offer us that something different that we sometimes lack in games against bottom half opposition when there is more emphasis on us dictating the flow of the game. Keep your eyes peeled.

3. Max Clayton is worth looking at further before making a decision on whether or not to sign him.

Clayton was the surprise name on the team sheet this weekend at Heritage Park, starting the game on the left of midfield. He obviously worked his socks off - he's trying to impress the head coach, remember - but he showed he has a good range of passing and even had a hand in a goal, setting up Steven Fletcher for his first strike of the day.

The Darlington right back struggled throughout against Clayton and he linked up well with Billy Jones down the left hand side when Sunderland were on the offensive - the lad clearly has talent.

Clayton's problem is that he's going to cost the club a seven-figure sum should we decide he's worth giving a contract to, and that could count against him when those in charge decide whether or not his talent merits that kind of fee. He seems to have pace in abundance and I'm looking forward to seeing him again when the lads take on Hartlepool and Carlisle this week.

4. El-Hadji Ba could save us a few quid in the transfer market - but Cabral should be sold.

Every time I've seen Ba play he's impressed me with his athleticism and ability on the ball. He probably had more of the ball than any other player in the first half and covered for Cabral's flaws by sweeping up whenever the Cape Verde man lost possession, which seemed to happen far too often.

Ba was understandably held back last season in order to ensure he develops properly and I can see merit in that but, now we're into his second pre-season at the club, I'd like to think that Gus Poyet might be inclined to utilise the Frenchman's talents further in this coming season. When you consider the sheer amount of players that we need to bring into the club, and the fact we have lost a fair few central midfielders since last season ended, it makes perfect sense in my mind.

Cabral, on the other hand, just needs to leave - and needs to go quickly. In my eyes him playing in these pre-season games means that there's a young player being denied a chance to show the manager what they can bring to the side. Cabral is probably one of the most likely of the current squad to leave over the coming weeks and for me it couldn't come sooner. He looked disinterested and lost possession far too often when you consider the level of opposition he was facing.

5. Heritage Park is a canny little ground.

It looks as though we'll be making the 2000-people capacity football ground in Bishop Auckland our pre-season 'home game' venue on a more regular basis and it is easy to see why. So far the club have only confirmed a game there against Real Betis for this summer but it's expected we'll also announce a tie against Udinese there on Saturday the 9th of August (TBC).

The pitch was like a carpet, and the location of the ground is canny - there's very little traffic around it so it was relatively easy to get in and out; there is a pub right outside of the ground that also serves food; there's a KFC and a supermarket just in case you like your food quick; and there is a bar open pitch side so you can stand and watch the match with a cold beer in your hand. Not bad at all.

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