Watching Sunderland play football again is incredibly fun, isn’t it?
I couldn’t care less if it’s an actual game of football or a live stream of the Lads playing tiddlywinks in the hotel bar - if the club are streaming it, I’ll watch it, because the good-feeling generated by promotion at the end of last season is still lingering.
And it was the turn of a little-known team from a place called... erm... whatsit again... Rome, I think?... hoping to gain a victory and some vital minutes in their legs up against the might of Alex Neil’s Sunderland, a late morning kick off in the Algarve as we round off what has been an eventful trip away for pre-season for fans and players alike.
Jose Mourinho is still a world class manager, and has a squad full of household names and internationals, so nobody was daft enough to expect a walk in the park - though I reckon most of us will have been pleasantly surprised by the tempo of Sunderland’s performance and the way in which we dealt with the occasion.
Their side featured the likes of El Sharaawy and Chris Smalling, whilst we opted for a side that contained no striker and a defence which included Carl Winchester at centre half - perhaps highlighting areas of the squad where we are particularly short on numbers.
To Sunderland’s credit, we didn’t treat the game like a friendly at all in the early stages, and it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that we were perhaps the better team all-round in the first half.
We played some nice stuff, knocked it around the defence and midfield well, and worked very hard when we didn’t have the ball - the biggest compliment I could probably pay our players is that there didn’t seem to be an obvious difference in quality between the two sides, and that we more than held our own.
Right up until the water break in the 25th minute we shaded the action, though after that it was Roma who came closest to scoring - Chris Smalling running unmarked at the back post to meet a free kick which, luckily for us, he diverted off the outside of the post.
There’s no such thing as a friendly, not in Luke O’Nien’s world - and his shithousing doesn’t relent even in pre-season, picking up a yellow card for a wild tackle before the referee asked Alex Neil to take him off right before half time after a Roma player made a mountain out of a molehill - with Jose Mourinho and his coaching staff rushing onto the pitch to try and get the midfielder sent off... just a totally normal day at the office for us, then.
O'Nien's got them absolutely rattled hahahaha pic.twitter.com/33TukSAMvc— Roker Report (@RokerReport) July 13, 2022
The second half came and Roma, having made a bunch of changes, flew out of the blocks - Nicola Zalewski coming close to scoring just minutes into the resumption of the action.
Then it was our turn, and to be perfectly honest I’m not quite sure what Leon Dajaku was thinking - breaking in behind and with Jack Clarke to his left waiting to tap it into an empty net, he instead chose to shoot himself and it came to nothing. Daft decision making, but I suppose it is pre-season... we’ll let him off this time.
Jack Clarke started to show glimpses of what he’s capable of and after beating his man down the left he knocked a delicious cross into the box that met the head of nobody - I can’t help but feel that had Ross Stewart been on the pitch he’d have buried it.
Not long after the hour mark we made a couple of changes, with Sohna and Taylor coming on for Embleton and Cirkin, giving us fresh legs for the final third of the game.
Carl Winchester and Jay Matete both got booked for shirt-pulling as their men got the run on them, and to be honest I love a bit of that - usually you wouldn’t shithouse in a friendly but we seemed keen today, and not particularly phased by the opposition.
If you can’t be fair... cheat.
There was a brief flurry of chances from Roma where they really should have scored but, thankfully, didn’t - first, a shot from substitute Afena that went just wide, and then a follow-up strike a minute later from Zaniola which twatted the inside of the post, ran along the line and then was eventually cleared... a huge let off.
It was inevitable that Roma would score and minutes later, they did - tired legs struggled to keep up with the play and when the ball eventually fell to Afena, he took the second opportunity to score when he nearly despatched the ball into the back of Patterson’s net.
Zaniolo, still reeling from his earlier miss, made no mistake with his follow-up effort either and made it two-nil with ten minutes to go - game over, despite our best efforts.
We saw the game out, and it finished 2-0 to last season’s Conference League winners - not a bad performance at all from Sunderland considering the players that we were missing, and I feel that in the first half with a striker on the pitch we probably would have scored a goal or two.
Importantly, our players got vital minutes into their legs and on their fourth outing of pre-season we looked sharp and competitive, which bodes well for the game on Saturday up in Dundee - a very different setting to the one we’ve found ourselves in this week, but given the absolute state of the weather forecast this coming weekend it probably won’t feel that much different when it comes to the temperature and humidity.
Overall - I’m pleased with the performance, despite the result. We weren’t bad at all at times and if we’d shown more quality in front of goal - Dajaku, I’m looking at you - we might have got a different result.
My Man of The Match: Jay Matete. Showed glimpses of real quality.