TONY MOWBRAY has challenged Sunderland midfielder Pierre Ekwah to ensure the intensity of his play matches the depth of his talent next season.

Ekwah enjoyed a breakthrough few months in the second half of last term, with his polished midfield performances helping the Black Cats make it into the play-offs.

With Corry Evans still injured, the 21-year-old is set to be an influential figure again in the first few weeks of the new campaign, and he proved his wellbeing as he scored the opening goal of Sunderland’s 3-2 friendly win over New Mexico United last night.

Ekwah’s natural ability has never been in doubt, but he is having to learn some of the less glamorous aspects of a central-midfielder’s art, with Mowbray having issued a challenge ahead of the start of the new Championship campaign.

“Pierre’s a wonderful talent,” said the Sunderland boss, who also saw Hemir and Isaac Lihadji find the target as his side won the second game of their US tour in Albuquerque. “But he has to understand he’s playing men’s football now and we have to win football matches.

“He needs to play at the intensity we need to play at as a football club. If he does play at that intensity, then he’s extremely talented. I almost feel as though I have to give him a slap before he starts, but he’s a wonderful player and he’s got a huge future in front of him as long as he understands the parts of his game that he has to keep developing.”

Mowbray was pleased with his side’s overall performance against New Mexico, although having raced into a three-goal lead, the Black Cats boss was slightly frustrated with the two goals that were conceded in the final five minutes of the game.


He felt especially sorry for 16-year-old goalkeeper Matty Young, who had impressed during his first senior outing in a Sunderland shirt, making a string of excellent first-half saves, but who was denied a clean sheet when Dan Ballard deflected Milo Garvanian’s shot into his own net and Trai Hume conceded the penalty that enabled Isaac Zuleta to score.

“There was lots of good stuff from us and lots of stuff that we have to keep working on,” said Mowbray, in an interview with Sunderland's official social media channels. “We’re a bit frustrated that we lost two goals in the last four minutes of the game.

“Matty had a brilliant game, the first half was amazing, so it would have been nice for him to have got a clean sheet. We’re disappointed and frustrated with that, but we won the match and there was plenty of good stuff.

“The main thing is that they’ve got 90 minutes. There were no substitutions, everybody got 90, and in two days’ time, we’ll play a totally different team (against North Carolina) who will hopefully get 90 as well.

“Hopefully, we’ll have no injuries and get back to the UK and get on with some more work. The serious stuff is about to start for us, and we have to be ready, so it’s good that they all got 90 minutes.”

Mowbray will adopt a similar mix-and-match approach for Sunderland’s final two friendlies back on UK soil. The Black Cats host Real Mallorca at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, July 29 before heading to the Suit Direct Stadium to take on Hartlepool on the following Tuesday evening.

“It’ll be a totally different 11 footballers (against North Carolina),” he continued. “Hopefully, they all get 90 minutes, and hopefully we get another victory and keep pushing on. Then we’ve got a long flight home and a training week before Mallorca on the Saturday, followed by Hartlepool. Again, it’ll probably be two different teams in those two games.”