SUNDERLAND kicked off their pre-season preparations with a successful run out as they claimed a 5-1 win over Darlington at Heritage Park.
Gustavo Poyet used 22 different players, and gave debut appearances to Costel Pantilimon, Billy Jones and Jordi Gomez, as the Black Cats ran out comfortable winners against their non-league opponents.
Steven Fletcher scored twice in the first half, before Emmanuel Giaccherini, Connor Wickham and Gomez added goals of their own in the second period.
Darlington were far from disgraced though, and Martin Gray will have been delighted with his players’ efforts against their Premier League opponents.
Gary Brown scored a consolation goal after Sunderland had scored their fourth, and there were appearances for summer signings Graham Armstrong and Tom Portas in front of a capacity crowd in Bishop Auckland, as well another outing for Liam Hatch, who is beginning his second spell with Quakers.
There were seven divisions separating the sides at kick-off, but Darlington managed to create the first opportunity of the game as Amar Purewal steered Graham Armstrong’s cross well wide of the target in the third minute.
Sunderland’s first opportunity came moments later, and saw Max Clayton cut inside from the left-hand side before shooting straight at Peter Jameson.
Clayton is a 19-year-old forward who is on trial after his previous contract at Crewe Alexandra expired, and over the course of the game, he showed more than enough to suggest he could be a useful addition to Sunderland’s development squad.
He played a major role in the Black Cats’ 13th-minute opener, as he sprung the offside trap to reach George Honeyman’s through ball, before squaring intelligently for Fletcher to roll home.
Fletcher was making his first appearance since damaging ankle ligaments at Crystal Palace in March, and while hardly operating at full pelt, the Scotsman appeared untroubled by his previous injury problems.
He claimed his second goal of the afternoon in the 20th minute, slotting home from ten yards out round off a slick passing move that also featured El-Hadji Ba and Honeyman.
Both Honeyman and Duncan Watmore, who was playing at right-back, caught the eye during Sunderland’s first-half display, which would have featured a Fletcher hat-trick had Jameson not made two excellent saves to deny the striker after he found himself in the space in the area.
Darlington were being prised apart at regular intervals at that stage, but the Quakers improved as the first half wore on and were slightly unfortunate not to claim a goal of their own before the break.
Purewal stabbed over from close range after ghosting behind the Sunderland defence to reach Chris Hunter’s deep cross, before Armstrong forced Vito Mannone into a decent save with a near-post header from David Mitchell’s right-wing cross.
Poyet changed his entire side at the interval, with the likes of Costel Pantilimon, Wes Brown, Lee Cattermole and Wickham appearing for the second half, and it took less than two minutes for Sunderland’s new-look line-up to add a third goal.
Alfred N’Diaye, who has been heavily linked with a permanent move to Real Betis, released Wickham down the right-hand side, and the striker pulled the ball back for Giaccherini to drill a crisp strike into the corner of the net from the edge of the area.
Darlington boss Gray made a number of positional and personnel changes of his own at the break – the most notable of which saw summer returnee Liam Hatch switch from centre-half to centre-forward – and the Evo-Stick League side remained competitive throughout the second period.
Wickham came close to adding a fourth Black Cats goal when he rolled a side-footed shot narrowly wide shortly after the hour mark, while Gomez also went close after a slick one-two with Giaccherini afforded him a clear sight of goal.
Wickham was a lively presence throughout his 45 minutes on the field, and he made it 4-0 with 20 minutes left when he picked up an over-hit cross from Charis Mavrias, swivelled to face the goal and drilled a fierce low drive past Mark Bell.
Darlington deserved something for their efforts though, and it arrived two minutes later as an error from Wes Brown effectively handed Gary Brown a goal on a plate.
Sunderland’s Brown trod on the ball in the area and lost his footing, enabling Darlington’s Brown to drill home from ten yards.
The Black Cats had the final say, with Gomez crowning an impressive debut display with an excellent goal eight minutes before time.
Picking up the ball outside the area, the attacking midfielder, who moved from Wigan Athletic as a free agent, cracked a ferocious shot past Bell.
Darlington: First Half (4-4-2): Jameson; Brown, Hunter, Hatch, Walker; Mitchell, Galbraith, Portas, Purewal; Thompson, Armstrong.
Second Half (4-5-1): Bell; Brown, Hunter, White, Galbraith (Walker 49); Fisher, Mitchell (Cocks 79), Portas, Hopson, Purewal; Hatch (Fryatt 74).
Sunderland: First Half (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Watmore, O’Shea, Roberge, Jones; Cabral; Honeyman, Larsson, Ba, Clayton; Fletcher.
Second Half (4-1-4-1): Pantilimon; Mavrias, Brown, Diakite, Ferguson; Cattermole; Karlsson, N’Diaye, Giaccherini, Gomez; Wickham.