A late penalty miss from Benji Kimpioka proved decisive as Sunderland’s latest pre-season friendly ended 1-1 at the LNER Community Stadium in York on Wednesday night.
Dan Neil produced a cool and composed finish in the first half to give Sunderland the lead, but a combination of a defensive mishap and York pressure resulted in an equaliser for the National League North side, with Kimpioka’s penalty miss leaving Lee Johnson’s side frustrated that they couldn’t produce a second successive victory as they debuted the club’s new yellow and blue third kit.
After Saturday’s impressive 2-0 win over Hearts at Tynecastle, Lee Johnson handed out more key pre-season minutes as the countdown to the new League One season ticks closer. Corry Evans was given his first start in a Sunderland shirt in midfield, whilst Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch continued to partner Ross Stewart in attack.
There was also a change in between the sticks, as Lee Burge attempted to stake his claim for the number one jersey ahead of Anthony Patterson. Bailey Wright and Luke O’Nien both continued to stay on the sidelines, whilst there was no place in the squad for Carl Winchester and Will Grigg.
First Half Action
After a rewarding end to their Scotland training camp, Lee Johnson’s side marched onto another pre-season friendly, but this time headed south.
They raced out of the blocks sharply, with both Lynden Gooch and Aiden McGeady coming close to finding the first goal as their attempts were denied; both by opposition bodies.
The Black Cats began knocking on the door, as Corry Evans missed a beautiful opportunity to gain his first goal for the club. A defensive mishap from the hosts resulted in Stewart being allowed in behind, but after cutting the ball back to Evans, it was turned over by the trailing leg of the goalkeeper.
Unfortunately for Lee Johnson, he was forced into an early change, which he hopes will not be too severe and was just as a precaution, as Lynden Gooch was replaced with Jack Diamond after just less than 30 minutes at the York Community Stadium.
Shortly after that, Sunderland’s patient approach reaped its reward, as brilliant build-up play resulted in Aiden McGeady being given the space and the time to calmly pin-point Dan Neil inside of the penalty area, with the midfield having to just effortlessly roll the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal.
Sunderland controlled the majority of the first half, but York showed their capabilities, as they began to take more risks and push more bodies forward, with Dyson drilling the ball narrowly wide of the left post, but the away side should have easily doubled their lead before the break.
First, Ross Stewart missed an ideal opportunity to put Sunderland two-up as his shot from inside of the 18-yard box was punched away by the York goalkeeper, before Embleton curled an effort against the gloves of the York shot-stopper.
Second Half Action
The Black Cats looked largely better than their opponents in the first half, but it was like a switch was flicked at the beginning of the second, as York took complete control and showed domination.
A combination of both York dominance and poor set-piece defending again resulted in the National League North side equalising. A free-kick from the right was whipped in and flicked against the left post, but Sunderland still didn’t deal with the situation. It eventually fell for Kurt Willoughby, who prodded the ball home, much to the delight of the York fans.
The one-way traffic continued as Scott Barrow accepted the challenge of the home fans, by unleashing a 40-yard drive but it was met by the gloves of Lee Burge.
Shortly after, the pendulum swung back into the favour of the Black Cats, but we were finding it increasingly difficult to create any clear-cut opportunities - Ross Stewart’s effort from inside of the penalty area was the closest that the Black Cats came, as he shot wide of the right post.
Whenever McGeady picked up the ball there was a feeling that he could unlock the York defence again, as he weaved his way into the penalty area, but his shot was pushed away by the York goalkeeper.
A rather lacklustre second period ended in dramatic fashion with substitute Benji Kimpioka playing a key role. Inside of the 18-yard box, he produced some fine footwork to evade the defenders before being pulled to the ground by Pete Jameson in the York goal.
From the resulting spot-kick, with the absence of Aiden McGeady, the youngster stepped up himself, but his weak effort proved to be an easy save for Jameson, who made up for his error in giving away the penalty.
Throughout recent weeks, Lee Johnson has reiterated how pre-season for Sunderland should be about gaining both key match minutes and momentum heading into a tough League One campaign.
Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Hearts was an example of how both of these were placed into action in a competitive setting, but Wednesday’s latest friendly utilised gaining important minutes ahead of tougher encounters next week.
It portrayed the key areas for improvement for the Black Cats, whilst also showing the areas where Lee Johnson should be impressed by the options that he has available, even with new additions likely to be incoming.
Just like at the weekend, Callum Doyle impressed within the first half, as he looked composed both on and off the ball, whilst Elliot Embleton really thrived in the number 10 role - showing just why Blackpool have increased their interest in re-signing the midfielder, who would no doubt impress in the Championship for them.
For now, he remains a Sunderland player and will likely stay in the North East and will play a key role in hopefully a promotion for the Black Cats.
With three pre-season friendlies remaining against Harrogate, Tranmere and Hull, the intensity will improve over time, and the level of opponent will increase as the season nears, but for now, the main priority still remains getting more additions into the club that fit Lee Johnson’s philosophy.
A full-back is still one role that is massively important and remains unfilled, with Eric Lichaj one player linked with the club, but according to reports, has had his trial period ended.
Despite hardly putting a foot wrong during both of the two last friendlies, Tyrese Dyce is heavily unlikely to play a significant role, but the youngsters of the under-23’s may have a massive role in stepping up to the first team in this campaign.
Harrogate is up next for the Black Cats, with the League Two side unlikely to be an easy opposition for Lee Johnson’s side, but yet again, it will be another opportunity for some more match minutes and hopefully a win to boost confidence heading into Tranmere and Hull.
Between now and then, the search goes on for new additions to the club, with the need for new players within the next week or two is paramount. But on the pitch, Lee Johnson will be pleased with what he is seeing so far, with the bigger tests still to come.