Sunderland were comfortable against Rangers, as Alex Neil opted for four at the back
Although we did not see a great deal of football, due to a mixture of Premier Sports’ interrupted coverage and a subsequent floodlight failure, what we did see from Sunderland was impressive.
Admittedly, the intensity and mentality of matches are different in pre-season, but it was great to see the lads looking so comfortable against a team that had been narrowly beaten on penalties in the Europa League final.
Sunderland distributed the ball well, with the likes of Alex Pritchard and Patrick Roberts looking very dangerous in the final third.
In terms of the setup, the most interesting part for me was seeing Neil choose to play with a back four, as I think many are still guessing as to whether he will start the season in a three or four.
This will undoubtedly play a key role in our recruitment strategy. I would imagine any full-backs we buy will be players who are comfortable as wing-backs, in order to fit both of Neil’s favoured formations.
Luke O’Nien took his goal well, and there was absolutely nothing to suggest that Sunderland wouldn’t have gone on to win the match, particularly as it could have been two or three before half-time.
Dan Ballard enjoyed a solid debut, and I’m excited to see more of him
The match was the first chance to get a glimpse of our brand new centre-back, and I think he impressed.
The Northern Ireland international looks to be a very modern centre-back- physical, aerially dominant, but someone can also play out from the back when needed, which is often crucial at Championship level.
Ballard’s tackle on Scott Wright was excellent, and I think it will be great for him to have the benefit of full pre-season, where he can settle and integrate fully ahead of the new season.
The key advantage he will have over Danny Batth, in terms of selection, is that he is far quicker. On the other hand, Batth’s experience will be key, and out of Sunderland’s current defenders, he is the one best suited to playing in a three.
Marking Tammy Abraham will be an excellent test for Ballard on Wednesday.
Luke O’Nien at centre-back was a surprising selection, but he was excellent and he took his goal well
When the team was first announced, many Sunderland fans may have thought that we had rewound to the Covid-affected 2020/2021 season, with Luke O’Nien starting at centre-back.
This is a position Sunderland remain light in, as we have already released Jordan Willis and Arbenit Xhemajli, and Callum Doyle’s loan deal expired at the end of last season.
Bailey Wright started pre-season later than most, which explained his absence, but it was surprising to see Danny Batth overlooked.
Nevertheless, as he always seems to do, O’Nien enjoyed a solid half and didn’t look out of position, and his second goal of pre-season was taken very well.
During his post-match interview, Neil that O’Nien is excellent with both feet, so perhaps that explained why he was given the nod over the more experienced Baath.
Patrick Roberts looked incredibly sharp - imagine what a full pre-season can do for him!
Is anyone else excited to see how Patrick Roberts will fare with a full pre-season under his belt?
That question may seem bizarre without context, but when you take a look at his career, not since his Celtic days has he completed a pre-season campaign where he has been an established member of the team, in an environment where he is comfortable,
For Roberts, pre-season has always been quite stop-start, as a result of waiting to join new clubs, moving countries, trying to settle, and all with the knowledge that it is on a temporary loan deal.
This season is different, as he is now a permanent member of a team where he has established himself, and he knows this could be a long-term home.
Roberts looked excellent on Saturday, and if he can stay injury-free, much like Alex Pritchard, Sunderland will be able to get the best out of the former Manchester City player.
The form of Trai Hume may determine how Sunderland approach their recruitment at right-back
One of the positions over which Sunderland have a question mark is at right-back, and I think pre-season will provide us with a clearer picture of how Neil plans to address this.
On Saturday, Trai Hume was given the nod over Lynden Gooch and Carl Winchester, as Neil opted for someone who specialises in that particular position.
With no sign of Niall Huggins as yet, this could be Hume’s chance to push on, and demonstrate that the position could be his.
It is highly likely that Sunderland will add depth in this area, given Hume and Huggins’ lack of experience, but their aim must to be to play so well that the manager is persuaded to give them more opportunities.
Hume is someone Sunderland clearly view as having excellent long-term potential, but the question is whether a loan elsewhere is the best short-term option, or whether is he ready to step up and play?
Only time will tell on this one.
Alex Neil reflects on Saturday's abandoned friendly against @RangersFC.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) July 9, 2022
Full interview... pic.twitter.com/Z7iPILbVU6