Lee Johnson fielded an extremely youthful starting eleven for the trip to the Wirral on Tuesday night, which also included the return of central defender Bailey Wright. Will Grigg, Aiden O’Brien and Jack Diamond were the only other first teamers to start at Prenton Park, with under-23 additions including Ellis Taylor, Sam Wilding and Kenton Richardson. In between the sticks, Anthony Patterson continued to wear the number one shirt ahead of Lee Burge, as the battle for the number one shirt continues.
First Half Action
In a first half where there was little between the two sides, the majority of the chances fell the way of Aiden O’Brien for Sunderland, with the first major opening of the game appearing when Kenton Richardson’s cross was met by the boot of the former Millwall attacker, but it was deflected narrowly wide.
O’Brien then turned provider, as he teed up Dan Neil for one of the best chances of the first 45 for the Black Cats - with Neil’s 25-yard ferocious effort was fizzed against the gloves of the Tranmere goalkeeper.
In the heart of defence, Oliver Younger made some loose passes, and he nearly allowed Mani Dieseruvwe a free one-on-one with Anthony Patterson, almost gifting the striker possession on the edge of the penalty area.
Both sides looked to create openings in Sunderland’s final away pre-season friendly, but it was the lack of the clinical edge that was proving decisive, with Aiden O’Brien unable to turn his looping effort into a goal, as it proved just too short by dropping into the gloves of the Tranmere ‘keeper.
After allowing Sunderland to have opportunities, the hosts did create openings of their own, with Liam Feeney’s volley being arrowed into the mid-drift of Anthony Patterson.
Arguably the best chance of the first half came towards the end, as former Sunderland winger Callum McManaman drifted past Tyrese Dyce cleverly, but unfortunately powered his effort wide of the left post.
Half Time - Tranmere Rovers 0-0 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
With another 45 minutes providing an opportunity to get more minutes into the legs of the Black Cats, the away side still lacked a goal scoring touch, with Aiden O’Brien’s header from a corner from the right wing being sent straight into the gloves of Joe Murphy in the Tranmere goal.
It was Aiden O’Brien yet again with the next chance, as he responded to a loose backpass from the Tranmere backline well, but on his weaker foot had his shot denied by the legs of the goalkeeper.
Despite rumours linking his future away from Wearside, Bailey Wright almost played his part in opening the scoring at Prenton Park, as he collided with Taylor’s teasing cross, but it was directed narrowly over the bar.
With changes being made to both sets of teams, the second half fizzed out without any conviction. Both sides enjoyed spells of possession without testing either goalkeeper - as for another match, Anthony Patterson was left rather untroubled in his goal.
The final chance summarised the whole match, as Sam Foley’s 25-yard volley was arrowed miles over the crossbar - showing their lack of a goal scoring intent.
Full Time - Tranmere Rovers 0-0 Sunderland AFC
With just ten days to go until the new Sky Bet League One season, it’s a race against the clock for Sunderland to bring new additions into the club.
A left-back, a central-midfielder and possibly a striker are on Sunderland’s wish list, but as the season approaches, it seems very unlikely that Lee Johnson will be able to get players in and up to scratch before next Saturday.
The need for new additions is critical for both the short-term and long-term future of the club, with the club’s position within the football pyramid becoming more and more severe.
With only three new signings brought in so far, two new contract extensions and rumours being linked with many players coming in and out of the club, Lee Johnson’s preferred starting eleven for the new season still remains undecided.
On Tuesday, he provided match-minutes to many of the under-23’s, who seek to stake a claim to at least push their way onto the bench for the upcoming season.
And in part, against a nearly full-strength League Two Tranmere Rovers side, they held themselves within high standards. They limited the number of opportunities that the home side could have, and looked to attack with the senior men within the side.
Many may wonder why the first-teamers didn’t play much of a part at Prenton Park, and why it was left for the youngsters to face Micky Mellon’s side, but it provided the under-23’s with an opportunity to show their quality and give the seniors a break ahead of the supposed dress-rehearsal against Hull on Friday night.
The lack of a goal scoring intent may be worrying heading into a League One season, where many sides have improved dramatically on their attacking qualities.
Look at Wigan, who have brought in Charlie Wyke, former Ipswich winger, Gwion Edwards, and ex-Rochdale striker, Stephen Humphrys.
Also, look at MK Dons, who have added prolific ex-Peterborough United striker, Mo Eisa and Swindon’s second top-scorer last season, Scott Twine.
Or even look at promotion contenders Ipswich Town, who look formidable, with new additions Wes Burns from Fleetwood Town, Joe Pigott from AFC Wimbledon and Scott Fraser from MK Dons.
None of these names need any explaining - they are well-known names who have shown their quality at this level time and time again.
It also references Sunderland catching-up that needs to be done before the start of the League One season, and even the end of the transfer window.
Behind the scenes at the club, these next 10 days may be the biggest of the next 277 days before the end of the season at the end of April, but most of all, the club need to be thorough in their approach and make sure that the additions brought in are useful to Lee Johnson and his squad.
For now, on the pitch, Lee Johnson will turn his attention towards the toughest pre-season test, with Hull making the journey to the Stadium of Light on Friday night in the final match before the season.
Between now and then, the board will be delving deeper to find a couple of new signings to add to the squad before next Saturday, because the clock is ticking.