The important aspects of pre-season friendlies are the improvement of players’ fitness levels, and getting every player fully up to speed before the start of a new season. Consequently, results are generally seen as secondary during such games.
In 2012, Sunderland took part in a four team pre-season tournament known as the ‘Peace Cup’, which was held in South Korea. Alongside the Black Cats were Hamburg, FC Groningen, and local team, Seongnam FC.
The logic behind this lengthy trip in order to play in some fairly meaningless games was questionable- much like the actual running of the club at that stage.
In the opening game of the tournament, Sunderland took on Seongnam FC. Conditions for the game were dreadfully humid and the temperatures were at a level that our players certainly would not have been accustomed to.
Furthermore, the K-League club were halfway through their domestic season, which gave them an advantage in terms of match fitness.
Martin O’Neill fielded quite a strong team for the game, which featured many expensive purchases from previous seasons, and players such as Connor Wickham had a major point to prove after an injury-interrupted debut campaign at the club.
Given a chance by O’Neill, the former Ipswich striker actually impressed in this game, creating many chances and coming close to scoring on a couple of occasions. His best opportunity came in the second half, when his deflected shot cannoned off the crossbar.
Wickham’s performance, meanwhile, was in stark contrast to that of Titus Bramble, who had joined Sunderland in the summer of 2010.
Bramble looked horrendously off the pace, and his performance was littered with mistakes throughout. Writing for Roker Report, Michael Graham summed up his performance aptly,
‘Although there was an element of lack of match fitness and sharpness about all the players which was to be expected, Titus Bramble was worrying short of both. His overall demeanour on the pitch was more like that of a lumbering ageing heavyweight boxer than it was a footballer in what should be the prime of his career and he was skipped past with absolute ease for the decisive goal.’
‘We never like to write anyone off, and we won’t be doing it here either, but with Wes Brown, John O’Shea, and Michael Turner already ahead of him in the pecking order, as well as new arrival Carlos Cuellar, it is very difficult to see a route back into the Sunderland first team for Titus Bramble right now.’
As the game unfolded, it was clear that the local side were on a completely different level to Sunderland, and the game’s solitary goal came midway through the first half, when Everton Santos’ shot beat goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
In defence of O’Neill’s side, it was clear that the humid conditions were hampering Sunderland’s ability to perform. That being said, our attacking play was quite basic, lacking in any real structure or strategy, and was heavily reliant on moments of magic from the more creative players.
Chances from Craig Gardner, Kieran Richardson and the aforementioned Wickham almost got Sunderland back in the game, but on the balance of the ninety minutes, it would have been an injustice had we scored. Quite frankly, we didn’t deserve much from the game and the Korean team were worthy winners in the end.
After the game, O’Neill rued the missed opportunity to play in the final.
‘It was very much a good workout. The opposition were fitter, faster and fresher but there were some decent things in the game alongside some disappointing ones.’
‘The biggest disappointment was losing the game. We would have liked to have been contesting the final on Sunday and that is a shame.’
‘We had some good spells and hit the woodwork three times. Maybe when I analyse it tomorrow I will take the lack of fitness into consideration.’
‘Sometimes during the course of games there are disappointments. We gave the ball away very cheaply when we had it and when there was no need to give it away.’
‘That’s something we can certainly work on between now and the start of the season.’
Three days later, Sunderland played Dutch side FC Groningen in the third place playoff, where two late goals from Fraizer Campbell and Ryan Noble saved the Premier League team’s blushes and ensured they didn’t leave the Far East without a win under their belt.
Tuesday 19th June 2012
Peace Cup Match A
Seongnam FC 1 (Santos 29’)
Sunderland: Mignolet, Brown, Bramble; Turner, Colback, Meyler; Cattermole, Gardner, Richardson, Campbell, Wickham.