safc.com’s Oscar Chamberlain takes you through all the action at Gigg Lane as Simon Grayson’s tenure as Sunderland manager got off to a winning start.
The Simon Grayson era started with Majic show as 18-year-old striker Josh Maja netted twice late on to seal a 3-2 win for Sunderland against Bury at Gigg Lane. The Shakers stole the show in the first-half as goals from Andrew Tutte and Callum Reilly handed the home side a two-goal advantage, but they were pegged back before the break as an inventive flick from Jack Rodwell reduced the arrears. Seven changes at the interval saw the likes of Vito Mannone, Billy Jones and Lee Cattermole earn a deserved rest following 45 minutes of match action, with a further four changes coming on the hour mark. And it was these changes that did the trick for Grayson’s men as the infectious desire of Sunderland’s young guns paved the way and led to a late fightback. First, Maja linked well with Khazri showing experience and determination to finish a fluid move, before the youngster topped it all off with a cracking back-post volley four minutes from the end to seal a 3-2 win. Next stop, Hibernian.
The team news, expectedly, provided a mixed bag as a blend of familiar faces and youth took to the field at Gigg Lane. Without a doubt the most notable name to be included in the starting XI was that of Adam Matthews, who returned to the squad for the first time in 23 months. The former Celtic defender signed for Sunderland in the summer of 2015 but made just two appearances before finding himself out of the first-team frame following the departure of Dick Advocaat. Matthews, 25, spent last season on loan at Bristol City and his return made for an intriguing watch. Elsewhere, Luke Moluneux, Rees Greenwood and Lynden Gooch were handed the chance to impress as Bury selected former Black Cat Joe Murphy and new signing Jermain Beckford, who scored a hat-trick for Simon Grayson’s Preston North End at Wembley in the 2015 League One play-off final.
BLINK AND YOU’LL MISS IT
An electric opening at Gigg Lane saw Bury race out of the traps and catch the Black Cats cold. With less than 60 seconds played James Vaughan got the wrong side of Lamine Kone and forced the Ivorian into a vital – but illegal – intervention, as the defender stepped across the former Everton striker and sent him tumbling to ground to prevent a one-on-one situation. The referee’s whistle sounded and in a competitive game a card would have been branded, but man in the middle Darren Handley allowed the challenge to slide. Vaughan struck the set piece low and hard but the wall held firm and the danger was cleared to avert the early danger.
ONE BRADLEY LOWERY
A rousing applause was held ahead of the game to remember the vibrate and unforgettable life of Bradley Lowery, who sadly lost his long battle with neuroblastoma earlier in the day. And on six minutes the supporters came together once more as the chant of ‘One Bradley Lowery’ echoed around Greater Manchester. The side, who confirmed that all gate receipts from the game would be donated to the youngster’s cause, also emblazed pictures of the brave youngster on their big screen throughout the game, in a true show of solidarity and class that will never be forgotten on Wearside – just like Lowery himself.
BURY SHAKE IT UP
The early stages of pre-season are about one thing and one thing only – fitness. But Bury showed no signs of rust with 19 minutes played as the Black Cats failed to clear and the Shakers punished their Sky Bet Championship counterparts. Good hold-up play from Vaughan was spotted by Tutte who arrived right on cue to send a cushioned first-time finish beyond Vito Mannone and into the top corner. And eight minutes later they doubled up with a similarly impressive finish once again giving the Italian stopper no chance. This time it was all about Callum Reilly, who turned his man with aplomb before dispatching a curling finish into the top corner. Game over? Not quite. With 27 minutes played a deft flick from Rodwell turned Honeyman’s low corner through a raft of bodies and into the net to reduce the deficit before the break.
Sunderland made five changes at the break as Mika, Tom Robson, Donald Love, Ethan Robson, Darron Gibson, Wahbi Khazri and Josh Maja entered the fray. A pretty uninspiring 15 minutes followed before further fresh legs were introduced in the form of Michael Ledger, Tom Beadling, Denver Hume and Owen Gamble, as Kone, Djilobodji, Honeyman and Gooch clocked up an important hour of pre-match miles.
THE MAJIC SHOW
Maja, 18, gained plenty of plaudits following an impressive week in Austria but speaking to safc.com he targeted one thing at Gigg Lane to top it all off – goals. And with 77 minutes played he got his reward with a goal that underlined his desire to work his socks off in style. A tough Bury defence had been physically testing the youngster following his introduction, but sublime movement and searing pace unlocked the Shakers and saw Sunderland level. Maja picked up the ball and slipped it into Khazri who weaved one way and then the other before crafting the space to shoot, but instead he chose to fire the ball into the six-yard box where the striker ended a lung-busting run with a clinical close-range finish. But there was plenty more to come. With 86 minutes on the clock Maja had the red and white army on their feet once again as he rattled a first-time volley beyond Murphy to seal a memorable win for Sunderland an unforgettable evening for the youngster.
Referee: Darren Handley
Attendance: 2,110 (724)
Sunderland XI [first-half]: Mannone, Jones, Kone, Djilobodji, Matthews, Cattermole, Rodwell, Molyneux, Honeyman, Greenwood, Gooch.
Sunderland XI [second-half]: Mika, T Robson, Kone, Djilobodji, Love, Gibson, E Robson, Honeyman, Gooch, Khazri, Maja.