Sunderland slip to defeat in Sweden.
By Kate Smith
Sunderland slipped to their third pre-season defeat at the hands of Swedish champions Helsingborgs IF.
Two second-half goals were enough to secure the win for the home side at the Olympia Stadium as Alfred Finnbogason opened the scoring in the 70th minute and team mate May Mahlangu doubled the lead less than two minutes later. Sebastian Larsson returned to Sunderland's starting line-up ahead of the game in his home country.
The midfielder returned to pre-season training earlier this week and went straight into the starting line-up, alongside James McClean and John O'Shea, who also had an extended close-season following the European Championships.
Carlos Cuellar took his place in the backline with Titus Bramble, after recovering from the injury he picked up in Korea, while Keiren Westwood started in goal with Simon Mignolet on the bench. It was a quiet opening period in the game at the Olympia Stadium with both sides having a number of chances.
The home side looked the more energetic of the two sides, being midway through their season, while this was only Sunderland's fourth outing, and a first outing for a number of the players.
Helsingborgs threatened early in the game with Ben Acheampong testing Westwood.
However, Sunderland responded with Larsson being called into action on corner duty. Each time the Swede stepped up to take the set-piece the native crowd were in raptures.
Sunderland seemed to find their feet after the opening quarter and some lovely footwork from Craig Gardner in midfield unleashed unlikely winger O'Shea on the right. The Irishman crossed the ball across the front of Daniel Anderson's goal but it was just too far for Fraizer Campbell to get a touch.
The chance of the half fell to Kaka, who escaped Bramble to break into the box. After a goalmouth scramble Kieran Richardson was on hand to clear the front man's shot off the line and steer Sunderland away from danger. For every chance the home side had, Sunderland weren't far from a counter-attack, with the returning Larsson and McClean looking lively on the wings.
The Irish international picked out Campbell with a cross in the 28th minute but the keeper caught the striker's header with ease. Gardner was next up with a shot. His powerful effort from 25 yards out was blocked by Andersson with the keeper once again denying Sunderland the lead.
At the other end of the pitch Westwood was just as impressive. Kaka made a blistering run up the left flank and the stopper showed great reflexes to parry away his shot, before Rachid Bouzaoun pounced with a rebound shot, but the winger skied his effort.
After the break Sunderland made three changes, with Mignolet replacing Westwood in goal and Matt Kilgallon and Connor Wickham coming on for Seb Larsson and Jack Colback, respectively.
It looked like the fresh legs might have made the difference for Sunderland, with Wickham having a chance on goal straight away.
After a neat one-two with Campbell, the young striker's final shot was cleared by Emil Krafth.
Moments later, McClean picked out O'Shea from a left-wing corner, but the defender's glancing header skimmed the woodwork.
The chances kept falling for Sunderland, with keeper Andersson denying Gardner with one of his trademark screamers and then both Wickham and O'Shea firing wide of the target. Just after the hour mark the home side made no less than four changes.
Erik Sundin replaced Ben Acheampong, Kaka made way for Lucas Ohlander, while May Mahalangu and William Kvist replaced David Accam and Jesper Bjorkman. If Sunderland's substitutions made a difference, then Helsingborgs' four new players changed the game. Alfred Finnbogason broke the deadlock on the 70th minute as his shot from 25 yards out brushed off the post and past Mignolet.
Then within minutes of joining the action Mahalangu had doubled his side's lead as his close-range shot went underneath a well-beaten Mignolet. The visitors seemed stunned to be on the wrong side of a 2-0 scoreline after starting the second half so positively.
After taking the lead Helsingborgs slowed the pace of the game right down and Martin O'Neill's men seemed to fade in the final 20 minutes. Despite the introduction of Ryan Noble and then youngsters Craig Lynch and Adam Reed, Sunderland couldn't pick up the pace or carve out any real chances to pull a goal back.
A skirmish on the ball saw the game end on a sour note as scorer Finnbogasson and Adam Reed were both shown a yellow card right on the final whistle.
Sunderland: Westwood (Mignolet, 46), O'Shea (Laing, 69), Richardson (Knott, 69), Cuellar, Bramble, Cattermole (Reed, 78), Larsson (Kilgallon, 46), Gardner, Campbell (Noble, 69), Colback (Wickham, 45), McClean (Lynch, 78).
Booked: Richardson (37), Gardner (64), Reed (90).