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Lessons from Livingston: Lens & Khazri ooze class for Sunderland & youngsters looking the part

Simon Grayson has now overseen three pre-season friendlies and with five games left this summer in which to assess his squad before the season starts, what will he have learnt so far?

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

It’s still early days and the Sunderland squad has some significant re-shaping still to come, but last night’s pre-season game in West Lothian coupled with Sunday’s testimonial match at Easter Road have raised points of note from which to draw conclusions on Simon Grayson’s thinking as the summer rebuild hots up.

After watching our last two games, our lad in the stand takes a look at what the new manager might have learned ahead of what will be a tough slog in the Championship.

Livingston v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Khazri celebrates another pre-season goal last night at the Toni Macaroni Arena.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

We really need to try and keep hold of Wahbi Khazri…

Shunned by David Moyes, I think most of us expected the Tunisian to be long gone by this stage, however he’s still very much here and he’s bang on-form.

Starting and scoring in each pre-season match so far, Khazri’s undoubted quality has shone ahead of every other player on the park. Best of all though, is perhaps how much graft he is putting in. I’ve never been one to class the Tunisian as a lazy player, but he’s seemingly doubled his efforts to track back, get stuck in and help his full back. In these first three games, his work ethic has been excellent.

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Khazri at Hibs on Sunday
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

If Khazri is unhappy staying at Sunderland, he’s certainly not showing it. At this rate, any potential suitors who may have had doubts over his form based on last season’s disappointing campaign, will be sitting up and taking note. But resisting bids from the continent could be the difference between mid-table mediocrity and a possible promotion push.

Some of these youngsters look ready to step up…

We’ve known about the likes of Lynden Gooch for quite a while, but the emergence of Joshua Maja will have certainly made a notable first impression upon Simon Grayson. The 18-year-old’s impressive form will give the boss food for thought when it comes to which strikers he wants to take into the season; Maja certainly looks capable.

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Maja in action against Hibs
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

George Honeyman has looked the part in the first three pre-season games and continues his establishment into the first team, whereas Michael Ledger and Rees Greenwood have had decent cameos.

And let’s not forget how highly rated Joel Asoro and Elliott Embleton are either, with the latter getting a good amount of minutes under his belt already. The future is hopefully bright.

Jeremain Lens is sheer quality, despite our unhappy marriage…

I’d love to think the Dutchman will have a personality transplant and decide to get his hands dirty with us in the second tier, because Lens has obviously got the talent to destroy that league.

Lens still had a face like a slapped arse last night but his genuine talent shone through, blasting home a stunning 25-yard shot with the last kick of the game. He was a constant menace and Championship defences would simply not be able to contain him.

Livingston v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Lens scored an absolute worldie last night and is showing some good pre-season form.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Perhaps the player we expected to be first out of the door could perform a total u-turn and be the man to fire us to promotion, or maybe we all live in cloud cuckoo land. Sadly, it’s likely he’ll still be on to move.

Gibson steadily showing signs of life...

A derided figure at the back end of last season’s disastrous campaign, the Irishman became the unfortunate poster boy of the failed David Moyes era. Throughout pre-season though, Darron Gibson has looked decidedly effective - though not flashy.

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Comfortable on the ball - Darron Gibson
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Placed in the defensive midfield role, the former Everton man has demonstrated possession to good effect. Gibson has notably been directed to pick up play and get the ball out to the wings, allowing our more pacey players to cause our opponents defence problems. And he does it well.

Gibson has gone about his role with minimal fuss, and whilst he doesn’t have the tenacity of Lee Cattermole, he certainly looks like he could be a key player for the team in the campaign which lies ahead.

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