SUNDERLAND brought their pre-season trip to Portugal to a close with a largely uneventful goalless draw which rarely looked like being anything else.
As Gustavo Poyet, the head coach, tries to find a breakthrough on the transfer front, the need for different options in the final third were further highlighted against Vitoria Setubal at the Estadio Municipal de Albufeira.
Despite the Under-21s winning the first game in the Algarve against Recreativo de Huelva courtesy of Mikael Mandron’s penalty on Tuesday, Sunderland’s first team were unable to find the net in the games with CD Nacional and now Vitoria.
Now Poyet, who has been interested in Liverpool’s Fabio Borini and Uruguayan winger Cristian Rodriguez, will take his squad back to Wearside hoping for some good news before Thursday’s friendly with Real Betis.
Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon was actually the busier of the two keepers against the Portuguese Primera Liga side.
The absence of Vito Mannone was a frustration for Poyet. The Italian goalkeeper would have played the 90 minutes but illness meant he had to stay back at the team hotel.
While frustrating for Mannone, his misfortune provided further minutes for Pantilimon to prove he deserves a starting spot – and he made the first fine save of the night.
After right-back Queiros had worked his way in behind Connor Wickham down the right, a few attempted tackles ended with the Vitoria man drilling low from eight yards where the Romanian’s right leg turned the ball to safety.
That seemed to spark Sunderland to life for a spell before half-time, with Valentin Roberge having the best of the efforts when his downward header from Adam Johnson’s cross dropped to goalkeeper Ricardo Baptista.
Despite rarely testing Baptista before the break, there were plenty of encouraging signs. As Vitoria’s intensity dipped, the likes of Patrick van Aanholt and Charis Mavrias were more imaginative and happier to join the attacks.
There was a brief moment of magic shortly after the break when Johnson took the ball under control, lifted it beyond a challenge and tried a 25-yard dipping volley that flew a yard over the crossbar.
Johnson should also had a penalty when his clever run in between Ney and Paulo Tavares and the latter clearly tripped him inside the area. The referee, Ricardo Martins, just allowed play to continue.
The introduction of Alfred N’Diaye in to the middle meant the withdrawal of Fletcher, so Wickham was given half an hour up front. Emanuele Giaccherini switched to the left until he was replaced.
But still, with Sunderland’s jovial fans chanting ‘let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal’, there was a lack of goalmouth action. In fact, Vitoria sub Pelkas came closest with a low drive which bounced just the wrong side of Pantilimon’s right post. The keeper also had to hold a curling effort from Junior Ponce.
Meanwhile, Danny Graham and Seb Larsson, who was allowed to return home from Portugal because his wife was due to give birth, were both on the scoresheet as Sunderland’s Under-21s beat Gateshead 3-1 today. Mandron added the other.
Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Pantilimon; Mavrias, Roberge, O’Shea, van Aanholt; Bridcutt; Johnson, Gomez, Giaccherini (Ba 75), Wickham; Fletcher (N’Diaye 61). Subs: Brown, Cattermole, Dixon (gk).
Vitoria Setubal (4-3-3): Ricardo Baptista; Queiros, Venancio, Marcos (Miguel Lourenco 64), Ney; Joao (Junior Ponce 46), Dany (Ericson 61), Paulo Tavares (Kiko 61); Zequinha (Forbes 64), Giovani (Yann 64), Miguel Pedro (Pelkas 46). Subs: Lukas, Francois, Diogo Rosado.