The second leg of Sunderland’s pre-season campaign kicked off on Wednesday night at the Almondvale Stadium in Livingston, Grayson’s 3rd game in charge of the Wearsiders. An impressive 250 fans travelled north of the border for a 3-0 victory over the Scottish Championship side, Sunderland’s first clean sheet of the season.
Livingston had the first chance but failed to test goalkeeper Mika, who replaced Vito Mannone even though he cost Sunderland the game at Easter Road.
Wahbi Khazri gave Sunderland the lead, curling a shot into the far right corner from a tight angle, after Neil Alexander parried out Lynden Gooch’s shot. Jack Rodwell then soon after powered a shot over the bar after some good play by Gooch and the English central midfieder.
Didier Ndong’s backpass nearly became costly but Darron Gibson slid in to prevent a one on one. Jack Rodwell then worked an opportunity for himself but Scotsman Neil Alexander was on hand the turn the shot wide.
Irishman Gibson came close with a 30 yard volley, a good idea to play the corner out to him allowed Gibson to find space and unleash a volley, only to sail centimeters past the Livingston net.
Second half saw Joel Asoro, the promising 17 year old Swede; come on to partner Josh Maja upfront, who was also substituted on. Josh Maja had the first chance of the second half when he shrugged off two defenders before blazing a shot over the bar. Maja won a free kick 25 yards out after being wrestled to the ground, Dutchman Jeremain Lens struck the free kick straight at Alexander but he failed to hold on to it and spilled it at the feet of Asoro who didn’t need asking twice to prod it home. Some good work down the left hand side by striker Asoro saw him pick out Lens who produced a 25 yard curler into the top right hand corner.
Sunderland finished the game three goals to the good in West Lothian and Simon Grayson would have plenty of positives to take from the match.
Sunderland then travelled to Perthshire to McDiarmid Park, home of Scottish Premiership side St. Johnstone, the longest trip for Sunderland’s travelling support.
Sunderland kicked off the game and looked poor from start to finish, St. Johnstone always looking the better side, a few early chances for debutant James Vaughan but nothing more.
Lee Cattermole played in Jeremain Lens behind the Saints defence; the Dutchman was then foulded by the full back. James Vaughan stepped up to the spot, like he did in his Bury days but Zander Clark, the St. Johnstone goalie made a super stop to turn the newboy’s penalty kick wide. Vaughan had a chance moments later but Zander Clark was again on hand to deny him.
Wahbi Khazri then played what should’ve been a routine backpass to his goalkeeper Mannone but the Italian couldn’t control it and nearly took it across his own line, causing him to handle it and consequently gave away an indirect free kick. Steven MacLean thrashed the ball through a crowd of red and white shirts into the poorly guarded far corner from 6 yards out.
Some very poor defending led to Saints’ second as David Wotherspoon doubled Tommy Wright’s side’s lead, slack defending by Cattermole, Kone and debutant Brendan Galloway allowed the Scotsman to stride through and roll a powerless shot past Mannone at his near post, something the Italian should’ve found routine. David Wotherspoon then made it 3 before the half hour mark as he walzed through the Sunderland defence, rounded Mannone, who had a shocking game, and tapped it into th empty net. Just before the half time whistle went, Jack Rodwell went past Zander Clark and scored but the referee had blew his whistle as Rodwell’s boot had collided with Clark’s head and knocked the goalie out. Clark required oxygen and a stretcher with both medical teams on the pitch; the referee blew the whistle during the drama.
The second half was uneventful and very few chances arose for both sides, most Sunderland players except a few of the youth players looked distant and as though they couldn’t be bothered. Didier Ndong was the bright spark in terms of first team players second half and was one of the few that showed effort and quality, Joel Asoro was unlucky not to break through from a Ndong throughball.
Of course, the previous day was young Bradley Lowery’s funeral which some former players attended including: Jordan Pickford, Jermain Defoe, David Moyes and Ellis Short as well as many of the current squad.
Over the weekend, Sunderland have been linked with Aston Villa and Scotland striker Ross McCormack who spent the tail end of last season on loan at Nottingham Forest, the Championship journeyman has lined up for Cardiff City, Leeds United, Fulham, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest in the Championship recently and is supposedly available for around £6-10 million.
McCormack is currently 30 years old and is said to want a move away from Steve Bruce and Villa Park, he is highly respected in the second tier of English football and has won the golden boot for that division.
McCormack started his career at boyhood club Rangers in 2003 under Alex McLeish but only made 11 appearances in three years at Ibrox, he was shipped off on loan to Doncaster Rovers and then sold to Motherwell in 2006 where he spent two years and earning a move south of the border to Cardiff City.
McCormack scored one goal in seven appearances for Forest last season after joining them on loan in January. He had scored three in 20 for Villa between the summer and January windows. The Glasweigen has 13 Scotland caps and scored two goals for the Tartan army.