Darlington 0 Sunderland 3

SUNDERLAND midfielder Steed Malbranque last night completed his transfer to French side St Etienne, a move that will see manager Steve Bruce step-up his efforts to bring in his tenth signing of the summer.

Malbranque was scheduled to be involved in last night’s 3-0 friendly win over Darlington, but the midfielder instead put pen to paper on a two-year deal with the Ligue 1 outfit having spent three years at the Stadium of Light.

The 31-year-old had entered the final 12 months of his contract with the Black Cats, but being one of the club’s highest earners, Bruce has decided to let the Frenchman leave.

With nine players having walked through the door at the Stadium of Light, Bruce has been told he must reduce the club’s wage bill before bringing in any more new faces.

The Black Cats boss is still keen to add a left-winger to his ranks; a position the club has struggled to fill for the last few years.

Reports yesterday suggested the Wearsiders have inquired about Manchester City wide man Shaun Wright- Phillips.

The England international has found his first-team opportunities limited at Eastlands after a number of bigmoney signings, with the 29-year-old making just seven Premier League appearances last term.

Whether Wright-Phillips is in Bruce’s thinking remains to be seen, but now some funds have been freed up by Malbranque’s exit – with other high earners like George McCartney also likely to leave – attempts to bring in a tenth signing could step up in the next week.

Assistant boss Eric Black confirmed the deal to take Malbranque had been completed and said Bruce – who watched from the stands as Jordan Cook, Craig Gardner and Ji Dong-won scored last night – was looking at options to strengthen his squad further.

Black said: “It’s difficult, the manager is looking at various things but it’s all part of the process, sometimes opportunities for players to leave come up and they take them, whether that helps anything else we don’t know at the moment.

“We’ll just have to see how things work out over the next few days but we’ll continue to try and improve the team.

“Steed’s a magnificent professional.

I’ve worked with some really good players but in terms of technique Steed must be in the top three. He trained the same everyday.

“He was a consummate professional and was a bit of a hero with the supporters. It’s closer to home for him, he can be with his family and we wish him every success.”

With Bruce in the stands at The Northern Echo Arena, Black took charge in a comfortable win over Mark Cooper’s side.

Keiran Westwood, Titus Bramble, Michael Turner, Craig Gardner, David Vaughan, Connor Wickham and Dong-won all got 90 minutes under their belt, with Bruce keen to give as many first team players game time ahead of the Premier League kickoff a week on Saturday.

The Black Cats final preseason fixture comes on Saturday when they travel to SPL side Hibernian, before Bruce takes his side to Liverpool on the opening day of the new season.

Black was happy with the Black Cats’ performance and believes the squad is now beginning to get into their stride ahead of the new season.

“It was really positive,’’ he claimed, 24 hours after seeing a different Sunderland side win 3-0 at Hartlepool United in a testimonial game for Ritchie Humphreys.

“The manager’s had it in mind to get as many of the first-team squad to play 90 minutes. It’ll stand them in good stead, especially the two centre-backs.

“It was a good performance, good ball circulation, we treated the game in the right manner and that’s how you usually get something from these games.

“It’s still pre-season, we don’t want to be jumping up and down about it.

“With all the new players coming in, it takes a bit of time to bed them in and it’s still a work in progress really but I think there’s signs over the last couple of games that we’re starting to get a bit of shape and style of play and ultimately that’ll be tested on August 13.”