How’d it go?
Sunday’s defeat served as a lesson in the nature of the second tier. An unpredictable, volatile, and frequently frustrating league. In retrospect, Ipswich were perhaps one of the worst sides to play on the opening day. Newly promoted, with the bit firmly between their teeth following promotion, a team built on defensive solidity, and on an upward curve under a progressive manager in Kieran McKenna.
That said, after a spirited first half-an-hour where the Stadium of Light bore witness to football more reminiscent of a 1970s Brazil side than an English second division outfit, we were quickly reminded that the talent on display last term was still present, and as irrepressible as ever. Until the stroke of half-time, of course, when, yep, another ex-Sunderland forward came back to haunt us.
The second-half offering was concerning, and akin to that of last season, where our initial intensity petered out, swiftly turning into unenforced errors galore, sloppy passages of interplay, and lapses in concentration.
Tuesday evening’s encounter was with a side we’d become accustomed to habitual, bi-seasonal meetings within the four years preceding. As expected, Mowbray named a much-changed side for the EFL Cup clash with League Two Crewe Alexandra. While those who turned out for the club on Sunday will be hoping to right the wrongs of the weekend immediately, the process of marinating in a loss is no bad thing, and will hopefully translate to a hungrier performance away at Preston on Saturday afternoon.
New shot-stopper Nathan Bishop was handed his debut, while centre half Nectar Triantis made his first competitive start for the club. With a starting XI made up of fringe players, Academy alumni (including Zak Johnson, Ellis Taylor, and Chris’s Rigg), as well as Dan Neil who was the only remaining player from Sunday’s defeat and Danny Batth, and Alex Pritchard looking to re-stake their claims for starting berths.
The first half was a drab affair, and aside from an Alex Pritchard free-kick, we barely tested the Crewe keeper at all. On the stroke of half-time, last season’s kryptonite of being defensively fragile from set pieces appeared it may not have been remedied during pre-season, with a floating corner nodded over a scrambling Nathan Bishop.
Following the half-time interval three changes were made, with another debutant, Bradley Dack making his Sunderland swansong, as well as Pierre Ekwah, and Ben Crompton coming on for Dan Neil, Ellis Taylor, and Zak Johnson.
The substitutions certainly changed the outlook of the game, and within 20 minutes of the three changes, Chris Rigg found the bottom corner. After several chances, including a Triantis misfire, it was all-square on the final whistle with penalties beckoning.
Converting all of our penalties bar a particularly tame effort from Pierre Ekwah which was saved, Crewe went on to win 5-4 on penalties and progress through to the second round, in what was a pretty disappointing evening overall.
A backup striker would give us a much-needed boost
Alright, we can’t really account for Eliezer Mayenda getting injured in his first training session, but judging by Tony Mowbray’s comments it wasn’t likely that he’d feature much initially anyways as he’s been signed as one for the future.
Having watched lots of the pre-season games and then the first two games of the proper season it’s pretty clear to everyone watching that we could really use some reinforcements at the top end of the pitch to give us more of a presence and focal point.
I doubt we’ll have someone through the door before Preston, but getting someone in sooner rather than later has to be a priority. Maybe the manager publicly sounding off about the issue combined with two disappointing results to start the season might speed things up and ramp up the pressure, who knows. I guess we’ll see.
Chris Rigg - Sunderland AFC’s youngest-ever goalscorer
It is no secret that 16-year-old Chris Rigg has a potentially glittering future ahead of him.
During pre-season, he featured regularly and even bagged himself two goals.
His ability to find the net saw him draw us level in the 65th minute, registering his first competitive goal in senior football to become the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer.
It wasn’t a particularly exciting game of football, and losing to League Two opposition (albeit on penalties) isn’t a great look, but the biggest positive to pluck from the game was Rigg’s performance - he’s improving rapidly and doing all the rights things right now.
The boy has a bright future.
An unsweetened display from Nectar
Debutant Nectar Triantis looked a little raw during pre-season, and that rawness reared its head again this evening.
The Aussie could have done better for Crewe’s opener and was beaten in the air.
Of course, it’s still early days for the centre half who is still acclimatising to the demands of the football league and the English game, so games like these will hopefully provide valuable lessons in his development.
Once he shifted across to the left of defence he looked more comfortable, and I’m sure he’s learned a lot from the game and how he played - he’ll need time, like all the young lads we’ve brought in over the summer.
Dack showed some nice touches
Losing our opening two games of the 2023-24 campaign certainly wasn’t on the agenda, but Bradley Dack’s second-half cameo meant that there was a glimmer of positivity on what was a relatively miserable display.
The former Blackburn midfielder looked tidy on the ball and linked up well with Alex Pritchard, and I’m excited to see how that little pairing develops over the coming months.
Tucking his penalty away with aplomb, he can go into the weekend with some valuable minutes and a solid first impression - hopefully it won’t be too long before he’s up to speed and ready to take part in some ‘proper’ games.
On to Preston...
A loss on Saturday away at Preston could spell trouble as far as the mood around the club is concerned.
With recent comments suggesting Mowbray is unhappy after off-the-field dealings at the end of last season, the pressure could well and truly mount if the lads fail to get at least a draw away at Deepdale.