Sunderland 2 Real Betis 0

by Oscar Chamberlain

Fletcher and Wickham on target in win.

Sunderland continued their pre-season campaign with a convincing win over Real Betis at Heritage Park.

The Black Cats were the dominant force throughout and Vito Mannone was rarely called into action, but despite enjoying the majority of possession it looked like they would be frustrated by a resilient Betis backline.

That was of course until Steven Fletcher entered the fray, with the Scotland international adding a new dimension to the Black Cats’ attack, opening the scoring 11 minutes from time with strike partner Connor Wickham adding a stunning second soon after.  

The Black Cats’ penultimate pre-season fixture saw Jack Rodwell and Santiago Vergini make their debuts, with fellow new signing Patrick van Aanholt also making his first Sunderland start on English soil, having previously featured during the club’s pre-season tour of Portugal.

Jozy Altidore stated that Sunderland supporters would be excited by van Aanholt, and within one minute it was easy to see why, as he burst across the backline to retrieve the loose ball and found Vergini, before Emmanuele Giaccherini shot just over the crossbar after good build-up play from Rodwell.

With 10 minutes played the Black Cats marched forward once more, as Adam Johnson’s cross from the right wing was cleared before Sebastian Larsson dragged a shot just past the far post.

Gus Poyet’s side continued to put pressure on the Spaniards, but after quick-fire passing in the middle third they were denied a good opportunity by the referee, who accidently body-checked Giaccherini in the middle of the park.

With 20 minutes on the clock debutant Rodwell was denied a goal due a contentious offside decision, rolling the ball into the net, albeit after the whistle had gone, after Giaccherini had peeled off his man and slotted the ball across the box.

The close calls continued to come as Betis strayed closer and closer to the edge, with Larsson seemingly denied a clear penalty when his neat flick made contact with the defender’s arm, before Rodwell saw a 20-yard shot saved.

The former Manchester City midfielder was at the heart of everything positive in the first 30 minutes, and before the first half hour was out he saw another shot blocked after showing great tenacity to retrieve possession and drive at the Betis backline.

Van Aanholt also rampaged forward on numerous occasions, and he too could have been awarded a penalty after driving down the left and chesting the ball beyond the opposition defender, who used his strength to muscle the Dutchman off the ball and onto the ground.

Liam Bridcutt also impressed, showing fine determination to win possession before finding Larsson and then Giaccherini, whose deft touch allowed Wickham to force Antonio Adan into yet another save before the break.

With 38 minutes played the Black Cats made their first change, but it wasn’t a tactical one as diminutive midfielder Giaccherini limped down the tunnel to be replaced by Jordi Gomez.

Vito Mannone was rarely called into action during the opening 45 minutes, but five minutes after the restart he needed to be on his toes to deny Alex Martinez from 25-yards. 

Sunderland also threatened in the second period, particularly following the introduction of Steven Fletcher, who was just unable to get on the end of a superb Wickham cross which was scrambled behind for a corner.

From the resulting set piece the Black Cats continued to pile on the pressure, as Larsson had two shots blocked en route to goal as the match began to open up.

A goal continued to evade Poyet’s side who, remained dominant throughout the pitch, but on 79 minutes the deadlock was finally broken as Fletcher burst onto the loose ball and fired the ball into the net.

And just like London buses the Black Cats were treated to two within quick success, as Wickham smashed the ball beyond Adan from 25-yards to seal a fully deserved win. 

Sunderland: Mannone, van Aanholt, Bridcutt, Larsson, Rodwell (Cattermole 46), Wickham, Johnson (Fletcher 67), O'Shea (Brown 46), Giaccherini (Gomez 38), Vergini (Mavrias 46), Roberge.
Subs not used: Pantilimon.

Real Betis: Adan, Molinero, Bruno, Jordi, Xavi, Pacheco, Renella (Molina 72), Perquis, Cedrick, Castro, Alex.
Subs not used: Gimenez, Matilla, Carlos, Chuli, Nono, Isaac, Isuardi, Garcia, Caro, Rodriguez, Pedro.