ASAMOAH Gyan and Seb Larsson notched their first goals of the summer as Sunderland stepped up their pre-season preparations a notch at Hartlepool.
Gyan and new boy Larsson were joined on the scoresheet by homegrown midfielder Jack Colback, who was also on target for the first time, as the Black Cats ran out 3-1 winners in Pool stalwart Ritchie Humphreys’ testimonial game.
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce was delighted with what he acknowledged was his side’s sharpest performance so far, with just one more friendly remaining – at Hibernian on Saturday – before the Premier League kick-off on August 13.
But Sunderland had to come from behind to win at Victoria Park, after ex-Newcastle wide man Nolberto Solano had fired Pool in front inside the first 10 minutes.
Bruce had promised to field a strong side for Humphreys’ testimonial and was as good as his word, despite announcing on the eve of the game that he would split his first-team squad between this fixture and tonight’s friendly at Darlington.
The Black Cats boss held back Titus Bramble, Steed Malbranque, Michael Turner and a quintet of new signings – Craig Gardner, Ji Dong-won, David Vaughan, Keiren Westwood and Connor Wickham – for the game at the Northern Echo Arena.
But, if anything, the side he took to Pool, which included the likes of Phil Bardsley, Wes Brown, Kieran Richardson, Lee Cattermole, Gyan, Stephane Sessegnon and Larsson, looked to contain more of the likely starters when Sunderland’s Premier League campaign gets under way at Liverpool in 10 days’ time.
But, for all the multi-million-pound talent that made its way down the A19 from Wearside, it was Humphreys – a player who cost nothing when he joined Pool a decade ago – who was the focus of attention.
The 33-year-old was given a standing ovation by the capacity crowd, who turned out at the Vic to mark his 10 years at the club, and the teams formed a guard of honour to welcome him and daughter Eliza onto the field.
The versatile left-sider holds Pool’s appearance record, having turned out an incredible 480 times, and was three years ago voted the club’s player of the century.
While the night belonged to Humphreys, there were also a couple of familiar faces in the Hartlepool squad, with ex-Sunderland youngsters Peter Hartley and midfielder Nathan Luscombe both featuring.
Bruce was disappointed with the lack of competitive spirit shown by his side in their friendly defeat at Burnley at the weekend and the Black Cats seemed to continue at the Vic where they had left off at Turf Moor. Pool settled immediately and Solano fired them in front inside the first seven minutes. A neat one-two gave Andy Monkhouse room to cross from the left side of the box and the Peruvian was there to apply the finish from 10 yards out, leaving keeper Simon Mignolet no chance.
Gradually Sunderland came into the game, with Cattermole testing Scott Flinders from distance, while Bardsley was also foiled by the keeper when he cut inside from the right onto his left-foot and curled the ball towards the fat top corner.
Larsson should have equalised on 26 minutes after Gyan had flicked the ball on for Sessegnon in the right-hand channel and he had picked out the Swede’s run in to the box, but the midfielder scuffed his shot into the turf and it bounced up and into the keeper’s arms.
But Larsson made amends five minutes later when he created the equaliser for Gyan, although the Ghanaian looked well offside.
Larsson crossed the ball into the box and the flag stayed down as Gyan got in front of his marker to head down and in off the right-hand post.
And Sunderland went in front four minutes into the second period. Richardson strode forward from left-back and fed the ball into the path of Jack Colback in front him.
The midfielder collected the pass and stepped around a defender before hitting a low left-foot shot which somehow found a way past a clearly disappointed Flinders.
Ten minutes later it was Larsson’s turn to get on the scoresheet, keeping his head to apply a cool sidefoot finish after first Gyan and then Bardsley had failed to turn home Sessegnon’s dangerous low cut-back from the byline on the right.
Humphreys was given another standing ovation when he departed midway through the second half, but soon after Larsson almost added a fourth goal for the Black Cats and it needed an excellent fingertip save from Flinders to push his 20-yard effort over the bar.
HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Flinders, Austin (Haslam 74), Collins (Johnson 85), Hartley (Baldwin 67), Horwood (Holden 74), Solano (Boyd 67), Monkhouse (Poole 59), Sweeney (Hassan 85), Liddle (Barron 87), Humphreys (Murray 67), Nish (Luscombe 59). Subs (not used): Rafferty, Richards, Mellish
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Bardsley, Ferdinand, Brown, Richardson, Elmohamady, Cattermole, Colback, Larsson, Sessegnon, Gyan. Subs (not used): Laing, Carson, Reed, Cook, Tounkara
Referee: Steve Smith (Darlington)