We held our own... for the most part
Before the game, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I did have this weird sort of confidence about our chances of actually winning the game. However, when you consider that we were playing a top European side managed by one of the best managers to ever walk the earth, that confidence was probably a bit wild.
Roma had a good end to their season, and had also won the Conference League, and they have some top players, so it was going to be a good test for our players and, importantly, good for our fitness, considering they’d likely have most of the ball and we were playing in the baking Portuguese sunshine.
The confidence I felt prior to the kick off was justified, and I actually thought we were the better team in the first half. In fact, we only properly dropped off once we started making substitutions and legs began to tire.
Our technical players like Jay Matete and Elliot Embleton looked good on the ball; we got stuck in (more on that later), and we defended comfortably. As far as pre-season performances against top opposition go, it was pretty decent, I thought.
I don’t know how much you can really read into that, but it bodes well for the season ahead - we look sharp and, importantly, up for it. Nobody is tossing it off and everyone seems fully invested in getting fit and ready, which is exactly what you want to see.
Lack of a striker showed
When we were dominant in periods of that first half (and in the early stages of the second period), the fact that we had no striker on the pitch really showed.
Some good crosses into the box were met by nobody, and it was usually Elliot Embleton that was closest to the ball - and he’s not the biggest player we have.
Reflecting back on the game at half-time, I couldn’t help but feel that we’d have scored one or two goals with Stewart on the pitch.
Then came our best chance of the game in the second half, and Leon Dajaku’s greed when close to goal probably cost us the opportunity to get ahead - shooting himself instead of squaring it to Jack Clarke for what would have been a simple tap-in.
We all know what Ross Stewart can do, but it does highlight that without him, we are completely toothless - it would be nice to have Nathan Broadhead back sooner rather than later!
Oh, Leon. Time to learn how to pass a football pic.twitter.com/ddp6RDMRNT— Danny Roberts (@DjRoberts22) July 13, 2022
There’s no such thing as a friendly!
Just like against Rangers, there were no signs from Sunderland’s players that we were treating this as a friendly - and I really like that.
Roy Keane spoke last week about how one of the big strengths of his Sunderland team was that they trained just like they played in games, and that’s stuck in my head a lot recently, because I get that same feeling from this manager and this group of players.
Luke O’Nien put himself about, and it was just great to watch. He got booked midway through the first half for a wild tackle, and then after a coming together with a Roma player (and to be fair to him, he did nowt wrong), all hell broke loose on the pitch as Jose Mourinho and his coaching staff did their best to get him sent off... something that the referee was reluctant to do, instead asking Alex Neil to sub him off.
Matete and Carl Winchester both got themselves in the book for shirt pulls when players were breaking away, and there were plenty of other occasions where we played the game at a high, aggressive tempo and made it feel less like a training session.
I like it - it shows commitment, and it also shows exactly how seriously the players are taking pre-season.
Signings are needed, but we aren’t miles off
Whilst the lack of a striker, Winchester playing at centre-half and the lack of depth on our bench highlights that we are clearly short of quality options right across the pitch, I don’t feel like we are a million miles off from where we need to be this summer.
We’ve got a really busy few weeks coming, and the warmup games will come thick and fast, so it’s important we sign a couple of players that can really add something to our squad soon, but we aren’t too desperate right now.
We were the better side for forty five minutes against Rangers, and then in a game against an even higher calibre team, we held our own for most of it - so we aren’t that bad.
I’m sure we’ve got it all in hand - although it’d be lovely to see a new face before we play up at Dundee United this weekend.