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North Carolina v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly

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Talking Points: Fitness, fitness, fitness... oh, and plenty of Sunderland goals too!

Winning games and scoring goals is great, but what really matters is that Sunderland come back from the States fitter than they were when they arrived.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Witness the fitness!

I’m sure we can all appreciate that even for world-class athletes that training and playing every day in some of the hottest, most humid conditions we could find is incredibly difficult, but the overall aim of this trip was to ensure we come back a hell of a lot fitter than when we went to the States, and based off what we’ve seen over the last week or so I don’t think there’s any doubting that we’ve done what we set out to do when we flew across the pond.

The difference in quality between Sunderland and North Carolina was evident in the first half, but their fitness in comparison to ours was superior and, as such, it levelled the playing field as we continued on with the same players for as long as we could whilst they freshened things up by rotating their team.

We looked knackered at half time, nevermind by the end of the game, and the fact we conceded twice in the second half is perhaps evidence of the fact we were struggling a bit as the clock ran down - but that’s okay, because that’s exactly the reason why we embarked upon this trip in the first place.

The meticulous way that this tour was planned is quite excellent actually when you boil it down. We specifically picked the south of the US for our training camps and games because the conditions really test your fitness, and I think that in the main you can say the players passed with flying colours.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re back in the USA for another pre-season trip.

North Carolina v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Goals, Goals, Goals

When you’re staying up way into the night to watch a game you don’t want to be sat there bored, so bored that you fall asleep. Thankfully Sunderland have been anything but boring during pre-season, and we kept up our rate of scoring goals in this one again with another four, all inside the first half.

North Carolina, in truth, looked dire in that opening half and we got a bit of help from their goalkeeper and the linesman in a few instances, but it’s always nice to see the Lads sticking the ball in the back of the net.

I thought the first goal was excellent, and the link up play between Chris Rigg and Jay Matete was great. The determination from Matete to get on the end of Rigg’s pass and then finish is exactly what you want to see from your fringe players who have a point to prove, and whilst it was disappointing that he came off injured, he’s given Tony Mowbray plenty to think about going forward over the last few weeks.

The second one was simple but effective, and one thing I’d love to see us do this coming season is score more goals from set pieces. The corner from Roberts was expertly delivered and once it landed on Danny Batth’s head there wasn’t any doubt that he’d score.

The passing and movement from Clarke and Roberts for the third was too good for North Carolina to handle, although the actual strike from Paddy was poor and scuffed and you’d be fuming if your goalkeeper is getting beaten from there, but it is what it is.

Then came the fourth, which was a mile offside but Jack Clarke didn’t care. He still had to finish it off from an awkward angle and he did just that to kill the game before half time.

We’ve scored 17 goals in five games so far this pre-season, which suggests we’ve picked up from where we left off last season and plan on beating teams with what we’re best at, which is picking them apart around the 18 yard box.

North Carolina v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Need for another striker evident

This might seem like a daft thing to say after talking about how great we look in front of goal, but the need for Sunderland to sign a striker sooner rather than later is evident.

Hemir has been fantastic since arriving but we can’t rely upon him alone, and in these games where he’s rested and we play a system without a centre forward it doesn’t half stand out when you look at how much we miss a proper presence up top.

We tried starting with Jewi leading the line, and whilst he did his best he looked incredibly isolated, and he struggled to get into the game until we changed things up a bit and pushed him wide.

We have plenty of goal threats in our squad, but none of them are strikers and if I have one disappointment on the back of this trip it’s that we didn’t have two centre forwards out there to try different systems with.

It’ll happen soon I’m sure, but the fact Mowbray keeps talking about it whenever he’s in front of a camera suggests that it’s at the forefront of his mind too.

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