The second leg of Sunderland’s pre-season campaign kicked off on Wednesday night at the Almondvale Stadium against Livingston, Grayson’s 3rd game in charge of the Wearsiders. An impressive 250 fans travelled north of the border for a 3-0 victory over the Scottish Championship side, Sunderland’s first clean sheet of preseason.
Livingston had the first chance but failed to test goalkeeper Mika, who replaced Vito Mannone even though he cost Sunderland the game at Easter Road. Wahbi Khazri gave Sunderland the lead, curling a shot into the far right corner from a tight angle, after Neil Alexander parried out Lynden Gooch’s earlier shot. Jack Rodwell soon after powered a shot over the bar after some good play by Gooch and the English central midfielder. Didier Ndong’s backpass nearly became costly but Darron Gibson slid in to prevent a one on one.
Rodwell then worked an opportunity for himself but Scotsman Neil Alexander was on hand the turn the shot wide. Gibson came close with a 30 yard volley from a good corner routine which allowed the Irishman to find space and unleash his volley, only for it to sail centimeters past the Livingston net.
The second half saw Joel Asoro, the promising 17 year old Swede; come on to partner Josh Maja upfront, who was also started the second period. Maja had the first chance of the second half when he shrugged off two defenders before blazing a shot over the bar. The same player then won a free kick 25 yards out after being wrestled to the ground. Dutchman Jeremain Lens struck the free kick straight at Alexander but he failed to hold on to it and spilled it at the feet of Asoro who didn’t need asking twice to prod it home. Some good work down the left hand side by striker Asoro saw him pick out Lens who produced a 25 yard curler into the top right hand corner.
Sunderland finished the game three goals to the good in West Lothian and Simon Grayson would have plenty of positives to take from the match.
Sunderland then travelled to Perthshire to McDiarmid Park, home of Scottish Premiership side St. Johnstone, the longest trip for Sunderland’s travelling support. Sunderland kicked off the game and looked poor from start to finish, St. Johnstone always looking the better side. There were a few early chances for debutant James Vaughan but nothing more.
Lee Cattermole played in Lens behind the Saints defence; the Dutchman was then fouled by the full back. James Vaughan stepped up to the spot, like he did in his Bury days, but Zander Clark, the St. Johnstone goalie, made a super stop to turn the newboy’s penalty kick wide. Vaughan had a chance moments later but Clark was again on hand to deny him.
Farcical moments followed as Khazri then played what should’ve been a routine backpass to his goalkeeper Mannone but the Italian couldn’t control it and nearly took it across his own line, causing him to handle it and consequently gave away an indirect free kick. Steven MacLean thrashed the ball through a crowd of red and white shirts into the poorly guarded far corner from 6 yards out. Some very poor defending led to Saints’ second as David Wotherspoon doubled Tommy Wright’s side’s lead, slack defending by Cattermole, Kone and debutant Brendan Galloway allowed the Scotsman to stride through and roll a powerless shot past Mannone at his near post, something the Italian should’ve found routine.
Wotherspoon then made it 3 before the half hour mark as he walzed through the Sunderland defence, rounded Mannone, who had a shocking game, and tapped it into an empty net. Just before the half time whistle went, Jack Rodwell went past Zander Clark and scored but the referee had blew his whistle as Rodwell’s boot had collided with Clark’s head and knocked the goalie out. Clark required oxygen and a stretcher with both medical teams on the pitch; the referee blew the whistle during the drama.
The second half was uneventful and very few chances arose for both sides, most Sunderland players except a few of the youth players looked distant and as though they couldn’t be bothered. Ndong was the bright spark in terms of first team players in the second half and was one of the few that showed effort and quality, Asoro was unlucky not to break through from a Ndong throughball.
Of course, the previous day was young Bradley Lowery’s funeral which some former players attended including: Jordan Pickford, Jermain Defoe, David Moyes and Ellis Short as well as many of the current squad.