Getting an away game in having clocked off from work at the same time as usual is a rare treat, and as we drove down to Hartlepool it got us thinking this should always be a regular thing.
Visiting local sides in pre-season ticks a lot of boxes. It reduces the amount of travelling the players have to do, it makes things easy for supporters to come along, and it probably boosts the coffers of the hosting side too.
I hope, therefore, that a return to United is on the cards for this time next year.
Before I got too far ahead of myself though, thoughts during the car journey soon returned to 2022-23. In the build-up to this weekend’s opener Alex Neil has been rotating his squad heavily, and as expected he once again made wholesale changes to the side following defeat at Accrington Stanley on Saturday.
It soon looked as if they would be in for a tough night too, but after conceding an unfortunate goal, Sunderland took control.
One thing that could have made the journey a bit harder was the heavy rain that fell during the afternoon. Things had eased off by the evening, however, and in stark contrast to the stifling heat at Bradford a week earlier, the players now had to contend with a greasy surface. It made for a fast-paced game though, and the Lads moved the ball around well.
Alex Neil probably has a good idea about what his starting XI for the Coventry City match will look like already, but not everybody is guaranteed a place. And in the first half at the Suit Direct Stadium, we saw one or two players trying to catch the eye and prove they would be a better fit. The team dominated possession and pinned the hosts back, and were it not for them conceding that early opener, you could have argued that this was a very encouraging performance in the first 45.
After seeing Sunderland grab a deserved equaliser on the stroke of half time the mood in the away end seemed pretty positive, and it was nice the see the substitutes being in such good spirits, too, as they warmed up during the interval and had a bit of a laugh and a joke with the crowd. It was a shame then that things turned a bit sour thereafter, all because the Mags in attendance had to make things about themselves, as per usual.
The fact attention turned to our desperate friends pointed towards a slight drop-off in the second half. Paul Hartley made a raft of changes, and while Sunderland still created some very decent openings, they were forced to dig in against fresher legs as the game wore on.
Those involved will be much the stronger for having to do so, and Neil’s younger selections, in particular, gave a decent account of themselves.
The Lads did lack a bit of a killer instinct, but it has been obvious throughout pre-season that Neil’s priority has been giving everybody a decent number of minutes, so in that sense it was job done against Hartlepool. Whether the performance was enough to change the team sheet come Sunday remains to be seen, but there is a flurry of fixtures after that and several of those involved against Hartlepool will need to be called upon at some point or another.
The gaffer will have learnt a bit more about those options, therefore, while the fans got back to Wearside in time for last orders.
Yep, these trips should certainly become a regular thing…
My Man of the Match: Elliott Embleton. Looked to make things happen throughout and put away a very well struck penalty.