Well, we got off to a winning start against non league Darlington in the first pre-season game of the summer. However we needed to claw back a two goal deficit to save our blushes as Darlington were certainly the brighter side during the early part of the match. The Quakers’ second was probably one of the goals of the night. Pickford, who rushed out from his line was only able to watch as Mitchell coolly lobbed the ball over his head.
Darlo’s first goal was well struck too beating Pickford from distance. Our defence parted like the red sea after a loose ball from Cattermole, which allowed Thompson to rifle a shot in the bottom left corner.
It’s difficult to criticise any team during their first pre-season game but one negative would be our passing and movement early on. We simply couldn’t deliver the ball to a team mate and against better opposition the game could have been out of sight before we even got going.
However overall the positives on the night certainly outweighed the negatives and both Giaccherini and Johnson were the highlights for us. Thankfully Giaccherini was able to bring us back into the game with a close range effort. The ex Juventus man looked in decent form and it was good to see him get a full 90 minutes under his belt. Advocaat will be hoping to keep him fit this season although 2015/16 feels like it’s a make or break period for the Italian international. His second goal of the night was well executed too and was deftly curled around the Darlington goalkeeper from 20 yards or so.
Danny Graham also put in a fine performance, with the work he’s been doing outside of the club to improve his fitness reaping rewards. In fact it was Graham that got us level with a shot that somehow beat the Darlington goalkeeper by meekly trickling over the line.
It was also enjoyable to see some of the younger players get some game time. Watmore is still yet to re-join the squad due to his time away with the England U20’s but watching the likes of Beadling and Brady play at the back was refreshing and both looked, for the most part, composed. Former Celtic fullback Adam Matthews also made his debut at Heritage Park although in fairness he didn’t see a lot of the ball. When he did, his pace was impressive and hopefully both he and van Aanholt will cause some problems for the opposition down the flanks this season.
Mannone, who came on in the second half, showed why he should still have a future on Wearside with a great penalty save around the hour mark, denying Darlington the chance to quickly regain the lead. The save was the catalyst for us to then pick up the pace as Wickham got our third and Giaccherini the fourth which rounded things off quite nicely.
It all looked comfortable in the end once the summer cobwebs had been dusted off. Hopefully as those still away re-join the squad we’ll ratchet up another gear ready for America.