“Why’ve we chosen the US for pre-season?” - Well, there’s why!
I was one of the many Sunderland supporters who questioned the reasoning behind heading to America on a pre-season tour, mainly because I’m ignorant and didn’t really understand the true reasons for going over there.
I just looked at the level of opposition on paper (and in fairness, this was before they added the Mallorca game to the calendar to beef things out) and felt as though it might not be a stern enough test for our Lads given what they’re about to face in the Championship.
But, I’m happy to admit now that I was wrong. The reasons for why we chose the States as our destination were more than evident as the game progressed.
Firstly, there’s the heat. If there’s one thing that will test your fitness its trying to play football at eight o’clock at night when it’s still forty degrees outside and incredibly humid, whilst there was the added bonus that San Antonio FC are bang in the middle of their league season and, therefore, are very fit and more than a test for us both with and without the ball.
The fact we were playing a sharp team helped the flow of the game. It never at any point felt like a pre-season fixture and I guess that’s a good thing, because it meant the boys had to give everything in every moment. When we had the ball San Antonio were pressing the hell out of us to try and win it back, and in return we had to do the same and press them high and in numbers to retain possession. It was a very good match to watch as a result.
Another tick in the box for Sunderland’s footballing overlords - they chose well, and it’s certainly better than watching us slug it out with a bunch of Scottish teams again.
Credit has to go to Pierre Ekwah, who just looked streets above everyone else on the pitch at times. The way he carries the ball at pace whilst having to shrug off numerous opposition players is majestic, and I’ve got really high hopes for him in the coming season.
Chris Rigg played really well too in that first half, and perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay him is that he never looked out of place in terms of ability and, crucially, physicality. The fact he’s able to do that at sixteen years of age is seriously promising, and the fact he’s scoring goals is going to help him stand out in pre-season. Clearly he’s now thought of as a first teamer and... well, if he earns his place there’s absolutely no reason why he can’t play a part at the start of the season, providing he keeps on working hard and playing well. There is only one thing he needs to do, after all, and that’s impress his manager.
Isaac Lihadji had a canny game too I felt, and whilst his future at the club potentially remains in the balance following rumours that he's being courted by a Qatari team, in his two performances to date in pre-season I think he’s actually looked very good on that right hand side and has certainly done himself no harm when it comes to proving his worth.
Other than that: Hemir led the line well and worked hard, linking up the play which is what you want to see from any Sunderland striker (and having seen the replays a few times now I definitely think that he has a right to claim that second goal); Dan Ballard was aggressive and commanding as he always is; Lynden Gooch found space down our right hand side time after time to exploit the San Antonio backline; Jobe Bellingham played slightly deeper as a holding midfielder in the first half and looked very comfortable; Patrick Roberts was full of tricks and was important to the amount of chances we created, sliding balls frequently in behind their defence; Jack Clarke at times looked a class above with his touch and the way he carried the ball; and Jewison Bennette was a constant threat with his movement and pace, and I’m glad he was rewarded with a brilliantly taken goal at the end.
All in all, some really good performances and lots to build on here.
We’ve got to talk about THAT San Antonio goal...
At the time I was thinking “WTF is Patto doing?!” but having seen the replay back a dozen times I think it’s harsh to criticise him, because absolutely nobody in the stadium bar the funnily named PC had a clue what was about to happen and saw that coming.
It was an absolutely cracking finish, so fair play to the lad.
Lay off Patto with the criticism for that one - I think it’s easy to make him seem daft for conceding it but it was a brilliantly struck goal and not one you can really plan for, as it happens once in a blue moon. The San Antonio player was just doing a bit of showboating for the home fans, and that’s all good with me if we’re still coming away from the game with a win and plenty of positives to talk about.