Sunderland’s pre-season schedule is up and running.
There was plenty to talk about following the final whistle, as a host of players made their debuts and a youngster continued to make a name for himself.
Here, we look back on some of the big talking points from the game…
MUMBA FORGING HIS WAYBali Mumba’s debut on the final day of the 2017-18 season was a nice touch, as the torch was passed from one generation to the next. Subsequently, the 16-year-old has been involved with the first team throughout pre-season, but thoughts around the role he could play are starting to shift. Post-match, Jack Ross admitted the midfielder’s performances are fast providing food for thought, and what was once a call-up to gather experience could prove to be an avenue into the squad come the start of the season.
Tom Flanagan was quick to criticise himself and the team following yesterday’s game, admitting they must be better in and out of possession. The defender, who was one of two players to complete 90 minutes, enjoyed a solid debut, but it was his communication skills that particularly caught the eye. Flanagan could be heard throughout the game and constantly advised those around him, encouraging when needed while being unafraid to fire a warning shot whenever his team-mates dropped off. Leadership will be key this season, and he looks to have it in abundance.
STAKE A CLAIM
Perhaps the most subdued part of last night’s performance was the Lads’ play in the final third, although that’s not a major concern considering it was the first game of pre-season. Rustiness is to be expected, as are attacking reinforcements in the coming weeks, but for the time being, the likes of Josh Maja, Lynden Gooch and Andrew Nelson have an opportunity to impress. The trio played 30 minutes last night, with Gooch typically tenacious as Nelson and Maja went close, and if, as expected, they start on Saturday, a positive performance could propel them into the reckoning.
Alongside Mumba, Reece James arguably produced the standout performance of the night. The left-back was immediately thrust into the action and was forced to be at his best from the off, as Darlington repeatably attacked down the right flank during the opening stages. The 24-year-old proved his worth, though, with assured defending and a calmness on the ball impressing throughout. He also showed his ability going the other way, breaking the lines and overlapping while showcasing a good range of passing. As debuts go, there was a lot to like and even more to build on.
GAFFER DEMANDS MORE
While there was plenty to encourage, and a defeat in your opening pre-season game is no cause for concern, the Sunderland boss is expecting to see a lot more from his players on Saturday when they face Hartlepool United. Ross was pleased to get valuable minutes into his players, but admitted they were a little slow out of the blocks and are capable of performing at a higher level. He also reserved special praise for Darlington for providing the perfect pre-season test, and the Lads are sure to face a similar challenge at Victoria Park this weekend, they'll need to be up and at it if they hope to come away with a win.