Cats are off to a winning start

14 July 2011 09:00
THE sun shone, the opposition provided a tough enough test and Sunderland's players emerged both victorious and unscathed. If the nearby Sam Smith's brewery made pre-season friendlies, they'd probably look something like this.

A Black Cats side featuring new arrival Craig Gardner cruised to a 2-1 victory over non-leaguers York City thanks to first-half goals from Phil Bardsley and Oumare Tounkara.

Steve Bruce might have eschewed the opportunity to blood his eight other summer signings, but the Black Cats boss will nevertheless head to Germany tomorrow happy with the start of his side's pre-season programme.

He will continue to pursue the one or two signings he feels he still needs to bring his squad up to full strength a renewed approach to Charles N'Zogbia is a growing possibility despite Aston Villa's interest in the Wigan winger but with so many players to add to yesterday's line up, the bulk of Bruce's summer work has already been done.

Gardner, a £4.5m recruit from Birmingham City, has been signed in an attempt to provide the kind of attacking midfield threat that was so conspicuously absent for most of last season, and last night's work represented a decent start.

Craig definitely has goals in his locker, said fellow new arrival Seb Larsson this week. He's very good at making runs into the box and covers a lot of ground. He has a fantastic right foot and scores a lot.

The 24-year-old was not the most prominent of the Black Cats' midfielders last night Kieran Richardson played behind lone striker Tounkara but he came close to breaking his duck with a ferocious first-half strike that was superbly tipped over by York goalkeeper Michael Ingham.

While the lack of any other new faces will have been something of a disappointment to the 2,500-strong travelling support, there was still plenty of interest in the return of Titus Bramble, Michael Turner and Lee Cattermole, all of whom suffered serious injuries towards the end of last season.

Bramble and Turner were reunited at the heart of the back four, although with Wes Brown and John O'Shea waiting in the wings, the pair both face a battle to hold on to their place for the opening-day trip to Liverpool.

Cattermole was his usual committed self at the heart of midfield, showing no ill effects from the troublesome back injury that affected him for significant chunks of last season.

Whether he retains the captain's armband he wore so proudly last term though remains to be seen. There are strong suggestions that Bruce is poised to appoint as O'Shea as Sunderland's new skipper.

While all the talk has been about new arrivals, yesterday's side was littered with players who played prominent roles last season, so in terms of continuity, it was fitting that their opening pre-season goal was scored by their Player of the Year from the 2010-11 campaign.

Kieran Richardson rolled a 13th-minute pass to Bardsley, and without breaking stride, the remodelled left-back cut inside before hammering the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.

York almost claimed an equaliser when an error from Bramble resulted in Jason Walker curling against the top of the crossbar, and the hosts had cause for considerable complaint shortly before the half-hour mark when Simon Mignolet appeared to bring Walker down, only for referee Andy Madley to wave play on.

Sunderland doubled their lead in the 33rd minute with Tounkara, who spent the whole of last season on loan at Oldham Athletic, side-footing home from the edge of the area.

Liam Henderson became the second York player to hit the woodwork when he headed against the crossbar from no more than six yards, but the hosts hauled a goal back in the 64th minute when Jamie Reed converted from the penalty spot after he had been upended by Bramble.

YORK CITY (4-5-1): Ingham (gk); Oyebanbjo, McGurk (Parslow 61), Smith (Fyfield 61), Meredith; Henderson (Chambers 57), Boucaud, Kerr (Potts 61), McLaughlin (Adriano 61), Walker (Purcell 57); Blair (Reed 57). Sub (not used): Musselwhite (gk).

SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Mignolet (Carson 46); Ferdinand (Laing 83), Turner, Bramble, Bardsley (Adams 72); Malbranque (Elmohamady 61), Cattermole (Reed 80), Gardner (Noble 80), Colback; Richardson (Lynch 80); Tounkara (Cook 61).

Source: Northern_Echo