Darlington 1883 1 Sunderland 5

by Stuart Vose

Black Cats off to good start in pre-season.

Steven Fletcher marked his return with two goals as Sunderland made a solid start to their pre-season campaign against Darlington.

Fletcher notched twice in the opening 20 minutes of his first game since March as Gus Poyet saw his side get valuable match fitness under their belts.

Emanuele Giaccherini and Connor Wickham added further goals in the second half before Gary Brown netted a consolation for Martin Gray's Quakers.

But Jordi Gomez – one of five debutants - blasted home the pick of the afternoon's goals to make it 5-1 and round off a productive afternoon in front of a boisterous crowd at Heritage Park.

Billy Jones and Costel Pantilimon made their Sunderland bows along with Gomez, while there was a first-team introduction for young Academy product George Honeyman, who played the first 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, young left-back David Ferguson also got a debut under his belt when he appeared as a half-time substitute.

Poyet named a different starting eleven in each half and soon saw his side get into their stride after Darlington's Amar Purewal hooked a shot over the bar inside the opening minute.

Trialist Max Clayton tested Darlington keeper Peter Jameson with a low drive from outside the box, while John O'Shea nodded inches over from Seb Larsson's pinpoint delivery.

Sunderland were finding plenty of room and it was no surprise when they took the lead just before the quarter-hour.

The marauding Duncan Watmore drove at the home defence before releasing Clayton, whose square ball was tapped home by Fletcher beyond a covering defender on the goal-line.

It was 2-0 seven minutes later as Fletcher was again presented with a plum opportunity from close range. A cleared free-kick was worked back to Honeyman via El Hadji Ba, and the Scottish frontman was on hand to drill the youngster's low pass into the back of the net.

Fletcher would have had a hat-trick on the half-hour but for excellent work from Darlington keeper Peter Jameson, who pulled off a superb double save to keep out a pair of vicious efforts.

The visitors were comfortably in control, although Darlington did come close when Stephen Thompson's close-range header was well gathered down low by Vito Mannone.

Poyet changed all 11 players at the break, with Pantilimon and Gomez both appearing for their Sunderland debuts.

It took the Black Cats just two minutes to strengthen their lead courtesy of a flowing move.

Alfred N'Diaye's low ball from the right flank was cleverly back-heeled by Wickham into the path of Giaccherini, who planted a low shot well out of the reach of substitute keeper Mark Bell.

With plenty of energy in the tank due to the half-time changes, Sunderland continued to press, taking advantage of the space afforded to them.

Wickham saw a powerful drive deflected wide just before the hour, while the big striker then profited from a clever feed from Gomez to fizz an effort past the far post.

Spaniard Gomez then almost turned scorer, showing quick feet before just failing to steer his effort onto the target.

Wickham – busy after his half-time introduction – was not to be denied and notched in emphatic fashion when he blasted home from a narrow angle after Charis Mavrias' drifting cross was inches away from dropping in at the far post.

The tiring hosts kept going, harrying for possession, and their industry was rewarded when the ball broke for Brown in the box, allowing him to slip the ball under Pantilimon to reduce the arrears.

But it was fitting that the game ended with the goal of the afternoon, scored by Gomez nine minutes from the end.

The midfielder showed all of his feted technique when meeting a dropping ball on the edge of the box, hammering an unstoppable effort into the net past a motionless keeper.

It was a fine strike – and an ideal way to round off the squad's introduction to their pre-season programme.

Trips to Carlisle and Hartlepool now follow before the squad departs to the sunnier climes of the Algarve for a warm-weather training camp.

Sunderland (First Half): Mannone, Watmore, Jones, Roberge, O'Shea, Cabral, Ba, Larsson, Honeyman, Clayton, Fletcher.

Sunderland (Second Half): Pantilimon, Mavrias, Ferguson, Diakite, Brown, N'Diaye, Cattermole, Gomez, Moberg Karlsson, Giaccherini, Wickham.