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Finlay’s Report: Sunderland batter Villa U21s & Scowen impresses - should he start on Saturday?

“Josh Scowen produced an eye-catching performance on Tuesday night. Would you start him on Saturday afternoon when the Black Cats begin their League One season?” asks Finlay Anderson.

Sunderland v Carlisle : Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sunderland made history as they scored eight goals in a match for the first time since 1956, as they opened their EFL Trophy group stage with an 8-1 victory over Aston Villa’s under-21’s.

Two goals in the space of six minutes from Charlie Wyke and Morgan Feeney put Sunderland into a two-goal lead, before, at the start of the second half, Indiana Vassilev netted from the spot. Wyke made it 3-1 with another header with 50 minutes on the clock.

Five goals in the space of 15 minutes at the end of the match sealed the victory for the Black Cats, as they await the opening to the League One season on Saturday.

The Team...

Phil Parkinson named a strong starting eleven for the opening group stage match in the EFL Trophy, with new summer additions Arbenit Xhemajli, Morgan Feeney and Remi Matthews being given their first starts in the red and white shirts of Sunderland.

Danny Graham only had a place on the bench, with Charlie Wyke leading the line.

Youngsters, Dan Neil, Jack Diamond and Brandon Taylor were also given match minutes ahead of the start of League One on Saturday.

Sunderland v Aston Villa U21: EFL Trophy Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

First Half Action

Both of the two sides began the match very positively, with Aston Villa going toe-to-toe with their professional opposition, but it was the Black Cats that took the lead with 15 minutes on the clock. From Josh Scowen’s corner, Wyke rose the highest and nodded the ball past Viljani Sinisalo and into the top right corner of the Villa net.

The Black Cats almost netted a second goal of the game when from another corner - Scowen whipped in a teasing delivery, which Feeney met, but his header was tipped over the bar by the Villa goalkeeper.

From the following set-piece Sunderland’s lead was doubled, and this time Morgan Feeney did open his account for the Black Cats, with Aston Villa conceding from another corner. Scowen’s cross was directed towards goal by the defender, who effortlessly looped the ball over Sinisalo.

As the clock ticked closer to half time, the hosts almost had a third to put the group stage match beyond the reach of the visitors when Power touched the ball to Gooch, but the American’s shot was arrowed just wide of the post.

When the referee blew the half time whistle, the first half ended with the score being Sunderland AFC 2-0 Aston Villa’s under-21’s.

Sunderland v Carlisle : Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Second Half Action

Aston Villa halved the deficit with only two minutes gone of the second half from the penalty spot after Carney Chukwuemuka was brought down inside the penalty area by youngster, Brandon Taylor.

From the spot, Indiana Vassilev netted at the Stadium of Light for the visitors from 12 yards out, firing his penalty into the bottom right corner, with Matthews unable to keep it out.

Only three minutes later, Sunderland’s two-goal advantage was restored from yet another corner and it became a double for Charlie Wyke. From Scowen’s corner, he looped the ball to the back post, where Feeney then nodded it back across goal to Wyke, who simply diverted it into the back of the net.

Lynden Gooch was unfortunate to not get his name on the score-sheet when his attempt from just outside the penalty area was looking like it was going to bend into the bottom corner, but the Villa goalkeeper pushed it out for a Sunderland corner.

With twenty minutes of normal time remaining, Danny Graham was given his second Sunderland debut, as he was brought on by Phil Parkinson alongside Aiden O’Brien, who both replaced Charlie Wyke and Dan Neil.

Sunderland v Aston Villa U21: EFL Trophy Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

In the 75th minute of the game, Graham played a role in Sunderland’s fourth goal when his header from Gooch’s cross was somehow blocked close to the goal-line, but Scowen created a little burst of pace and slammed the ball into the back of the net.

Two minutes later, Max Power fired Sunderland into a four-goal lead when Scowen fed the new Sunderland captain, who dribbled the ball closer to goal, before arrowing the ball into the bottom left corner from around 25 yards out.

Phil Parkinson made his third and final substitution when he brought on George Dobson in the place of Max Power in the centre of midfield.

Danny Graham scored his first Sunderland goal on his second spell when Scowen cut the ball back to him from inside the penalty area, and he slid it underneath the Aston Villa goalkeeper.

It was seven-one with 84 minutes on the clock when George Dobson netted after coming on. Jack Diamond attempted to play the ball across goal, but it was back-heeled by a Villa defender, but Dobson was able to fire into the back of the net.

The Black Cats added the finishing touches to an impressive performance with an eighth goal when Aiden O’Brien was able to curl the ball into the bottom left corner from just inside the penalty area.

When the referee blew the full time whistle, the match ended Sunderland AFC 8-1 Aston Villa’s under-21’s.

Sunderland v Aston Villa U21: EFL Trophy Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Finlay’s Verdict....

During the 2018-19 season, the EFL Trophy was partly blamed for the Black Cats’ failure to claim automatic promotion with all the mid-week matches that come with progressing in the tournament.

Last season, the EFL Trophy was one of the reasons that Parkinson received criticism as the Black Cats crashed out of the competition at the group stage, as Sunderland lost to both Leicester City’s under-21’s and Scunthorpe United.

In this campaign, Sunderland don’t need a Wembley cup run visit. Of course, it would be nice if the Black Cats were to win a trophy in their third season in League One, but claiming automatic promotion is the Wearsiders’ one and only priority.

On Tuesday, their 2020/2021 campaign in this competition began with an 8-1 thrashing of Villa’s under-21’s; the first time they have scored eight since beating Charlton by the same score-line 64 years ago. The match allowed our fringe players to have a chance at playing some competitive football for the first time, and for some, to stake a claim to be in the starting eleven on Saturday. One of those was Josh Scowen, who managed to bag himself one goal and three assists - so does he deserve a place in the starting eleven on Saturday? Or, are there players who are already one-step ahead of him?

Obviously, some fans will be very excited by an 8-1 score-line, which could maybe a good omen for the start of the League One season, but with no disrespect to the Villa youngsters, playing competitive League One football is much more challenging and mentally tougher than the EFL Trophy.

So, Saturday presents the beginning of what could be a memorable League One season for the Black Cats. They have to get off to a good start, in order to lay down a marker in the opening few games, where they have tricky opposition.

It could be stated that Bristol Rovers are the easiest opposition they have to play in the first four/five matches. Some players from Tuesday night’s victory may get the opportunity to feature in the league, but I would think that most of the starting eleven from the weekend’s EFL Cup tie will begin at 3pm on Saturday. Hopefully the Lads will be able to produce a spirited performance and add the first three points onto the board.

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