Stoke City 2 Sunderland 0
Sunderland resumed their Premier League campaign with a 2-0 defeat against Stoke City at a blustery Bet365 Stadium.
Marko Arnautovic starred for the previously winless Potters who led after just seven minutes, with Joe Allen – originally a doubt for the game – stooping low to head home from close range.
The former Liverpool midfielder grabbed his second on the stroke of half-time, directing the ball through a crowded penalty area and into the bottom corner to leave Sunderland with a mountain to climb.
Jordan Pickford once again impressed following his maiden England call-up, but although the stopper kept a glimmer of hope alive there was no way back for the Black Cats who tasted defeat for the sixth time in eight Premier League games.
Sunderland’s injury-plagued squad forced David Moyes into changes in at the Bet365 Stadium, with Lamine Kone’s absence providing the latest fitness blow to the Black Cats.
Papy Djilobodji partnered captain John O’Shea in the centre of defence with Patrick van Aanholt recalled to the starting XI.
Vito Mannone, Jason Denayer, Jan Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole, Seb Larsson, Adnan Januzaj and Fabio Borini all missed out, but Steven Pienaar and Victor Anichebe proved their fitness to warrant a place on a bench.
As they often have this season, Sunderland made a bright start to the game with an energetic midfield closing down the Potters and limiting their time on the ball.
However, with just seven minutes played they found themselves behind.
A brilliantly sliding challenge from Djilobodji denied Wilfried Bony and should have ended a Potters attack, but the Black Cats failed to clear the home side made them pay.
Arnautovic was the architect breaking the offside trap before showing superb awareness to check back and cross towards Allen, and it couldn’t have been easier for the Welshman who earned a free header as Djilobodji and van Aanholt switched off.
Backed by a sell-out support, the Black Cats rallied and they almost levelled when McNair engineered a sweeping counter, but after peeling off his marker Defoe was denied by a last-ditch intervention.
Arnautovic remained Stoke’s primary source of creativity, but the next big chance of the game fell to Bony who bulldozed his way through the Sunderland defence before thumping the ball wide.
Moments earlier, Defoe blazed a half-chance over the crossbar to compound the Lads’ frustration.
England under-21 international Watmore was bright spark throughout the opening 45 minutes, using his blistering to intervene at the back before motoring forward in an attempt to create an equaliser.
Stoke were happy to absorb the pressure and try their luck on the break, and they were almost rewarded as Arnautovic diverted wide after a brilliant pass from Bony.
van Aanholt, who suffered a knock earlier in the half, limped off soon after to add to Sunderland’s injury woes, and with Stoke piling forward and the pressure growing something had to give.
It almost came when Cameron was denied one on one by Pickford after his initial effort cannoned off substitute Billy Jones, but the resulting corner spelled doom for the Black Cats as Allen rifled the ball into the net.
With a big task on their hands, Sunderland went in search of a route back into the game.
However, Stoke were a constant threat on the break and they sliced the Black Cats to pieces on a number of occasions, with Pickford producing a marvellous one-handed save to deny Bony before Allen’s follow-up was blocked.
Arnautovic then saw an attempt crash off a defender, with replays showing it came off O’Shea’s arm, as the onslaught continued and Sunderland clang on to slender hopes of a comeback.
After weathering the storm Moyes’ side created a well-worked opening as Jones and Watmore combined, but after wriggling free and finding Defoe the latter watched on as Stoke thwarted the Black Cats’ top scorer.
Arnautovic then saw an effort ruled out for offside before Charlie Adam crashed a 25-yard drive against the crossbar.
It ended 2-0 with the home side securing a first league win of the season, with Sunderland heading back to the drawing board ahead of next weekend’s trip to West Ham United.