Full-time: Hartlepool 0 Sunderland 3
SUNDERLAND’S young guns took centre stage at Victoria Park tonight when a resilient Hartlepool United defence was finally undone after keeping their Premier League counterparts at bay for more than an hour.
Pools, of League Two, successfully kept out the a Black Cats team including Steven Fletcher, Adam Johnson, Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson but then Gustavo Poyet’s decision to change an entire eleven turned proceedings in their favour.
After midfielder Carl Lawson had curled in a delightful opener with 20 minutes remaining, lively right-back Andrew Cartwright then hit a brace to leave Hartlepool defeated and well aware of a fresh injection of pace introduced by Sunderland in front of 5,617 supporters.
Hartlepool actually had more new signings on show than Sunderland. Former Boro boys Matthew Bates and Stuart Parnaby, old team-mates of Cattermole and Johnson, lined up for the home side, with trialist Tommy Miller given a chance to earn a deal from Colin Cooper.
Miller, a former Sunderland midfielder, sat at the hub of the midfield along with Parnaby and asked to effectively track any deep running from El-Hadji Ba and Larsson behind the lone striker Fletcher.
Fletcher, keen to forget last season’s poor season, was heavily involved in the first half and should have given Sunderland the lead. After he had teed up Max Clayton, who has had his trial period extended from Crewe as discussions over a £1m price-tag is discussed, for a chance which was curled wide, Fletcher went even closer.
The Scotland international was picked out in space by Johnson, who was given far too much freedom in the final third, and he cut inside before side-footing a low shot against the foot of the far post.
Sunderland should have been ahead, but in fairness to Hartlepool they had created the first chance of the evening when Luke James was denied at the near post by Sunderland’s summer recruit Costel Pantilimon.
After the restart, and before the huge wave of substitutions, Hartlepool almost went ahead. Parnaby broke from deep and struck a sweet shot straight at Pantilimon and then Poyet made his full team of introductions from the bench on the hour.
There was freshness and vibrancy about Sunderland’s youngsters, with midfielder George Honeyman going close with a decent chipped effort not long after coming on.
And then the move of the match earned the lead for Sunderland with 20 minutes remaining. More than 15 passes were exchanged before the blue shirts worked their way in to the area, Mikael Mandron laid off for Lawson to curl first time inside Scott Flinders’ far post.
Then three minutes later it was two. This time Lynden Gooch played in full-back Cartwright before poking a lovely finish beyond Flinders. With 13 minutes remaining Cartwright, again bursting down the line, fired a low drive beyond Flinders, who should have done better, even if there was a deflection off Bates.
HARTLEPOOL (4-4-2): Flinders; Duckworth, Austin, Bates, Holden; Walker, Miller, Parnaby, Compton (Smith 74); Harewood (Franks 46), James. Subs: Woods, Rafferty (gk), Rowbotham, Nearney, Hawkins, Richards, Jones.
SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1): Pantilimon; Watmore, Roberge, O’Shea, Ferguson; Cattermole; Johnson, Larsson, Ba, Clayton; Fletcher. Subs (all used on 60 minutes): Pickford (gk); Cartwright, Robson T, Harrison, Beadling, Agnew, Honeyman, Smith, Gooch, Lawson, Mandron.
SUMMER SIGNING WATCH
The Romanian was aware in the first few moments of the night to get down low to deny Luke James at his near post. After that he hardly had a touch, but he is unlikely to be judged on this performance when it comes to the Premier League. He did hold a Stuart Parnaby drive.
Not actually a new signing just yet, but the young man from Crewe displayed a hunger and presence to suggest he will be signed if the price is right. He played on the left, operating in the Fabio Borini role, and showed he would be a good acquisition even if it was just for the Under-21s initially.
Slotted in to the heart of the defence alongside Neil Austin, who you would think would not start in that position in August despite playing reasonably well. Bates completed his fair share of tackles and blocks and was up against £12m man Steven Fletcher for an hour.
Middlesbrough fans might not be used to seeing him play the holding role too often, but that’s where he found himself for the third friendly in a row under Colin Cooper. Parnaby’s first meaningful pass was to pick out Luke James in the opening moments which forced a save from Pantilimon.
The experienced No 8 nowadays who very rarely breaks in to the final third, but he looked composed in the middle and retained possession which is what Cooper is looking for from the man in that role.