Credit has to go to the players!
Before we even talk about the actual game and the performance, I think we have to give credit to the players not only for this game but the one in San Antonio, in that they were able to perform to their usual standards in ridiculous conditions.
They will never play or train back home in the type of heat they’ve had to put up with in the US, so the fact they’ve even been able to do it and still do what they do best and work very hard is a credit to their professionalism and characters.
It was almost 40 degrees again in Albuquerque, it was humid and was played at a high altitude, yet every single player who started completed the ninety minutes - this after being put through their paces earlier in the day in a training session too.
This pre-season tour raised eyebrows when it was first announced but the decision to play as far south as we possibly could so that the conditions would test and improve our collective fitness seems like a masterstroke to me. I’ve got no doubt that we’ll see the benefit of this over the coming weeks and months as we start the season in the Championship.
The standout performers
Nobody let themselves down in this game which is a positive in itself, however there were several standout performers for Sunderland who I feel deserve a bit of credit.
Firstly, Matthew Young. Given that this was his first ever game for the senior side it was brilliant to see how easily he slotted in like he’d always been there, and you can see just why the club opted to take him out on the tour with them, despite his inexperience.
You can hardly believe that the lad is only sixteen - he’s a big lad, and of the stature where you’d feel comfortable sticking him into a first team environment without worrying about whether he’ll be able to cope with the physical side of the game.
That aside though his goalkeeping was exemplary. He made several excellent saves in the first half to keep the scores down, caught plenty of crosses into the box and showed good footwork when playing out from the back to his defence.
The fact that he conceded twice is a little bit gutting really as his performance deserved a clean sheet. He didn’t stand a chance with the deflection for their first and then for the second, where New Mexico were given a penalty for a weak as piss ‘foul’, he can hardly be blamed.
He should be very proud of himself - good things are coming for this boy.
And what else can be said about Pierre Ekwah?
That goal was absolutely superb in real time. The pace at which he smacked the ball into the top corner was frightening - the cameraman could barely keep up!
Ekwah is quickly becoming one of my favourite players and everything we saw at the back end of last season up to now suggests that he’s going to properly burst onto the scene. Given all of his core attributes I wouldn’t be surprised if there are already big clubs in the Premier League keeping one eye on how he progresses, because some of the things that he shows us in flashes suggests that he’s going to become a valuable asset for the club.
As for the rest - Alex Pritchard played really well in the ten position and seemed to thrive off having a centre forward to play off; Hemir was a happy recipient of a great ball from Pritch which he nodded home, getting his third goal of pre-season and further establishing himself as an aerial threat in the opposition box; Nectar Triantis and Dan Ballard at the back were solid; and Luke O’Nien did what he always does and gave a credible performance out of position, putting a nice ball across for the goal that Isaac Lihadji scored from.
I know that the most important thing about pre-season is building our fitness ahead of the real action starting, but it’s always nice to see our lads playing well and scoring goals.
Mowbray brings us back down to earth
As the biggest happy clapper walking the earth I’m always first in the queue when it comes to handing out medals for good performances after we win, but there’s nothing quite like a dose of reality from Tony Mowbray to bring you back down to earth!
I totally get it though, and that’s why he’s managed over 800 games in his career - he doesn’t get too carried away whether we win, lose or draw, and is always quick to dampen and hype around a player if he doesn’t think it’s justified.
I think given how excitable we all are at the minute, it’s fully justified.
Although, I’m not sure about giving Pierre Ekwah a slap to get him going - I reckon he could hit you back twice as hard!