Sunderland 1-0 Harrogate Town: Grigg goal saves Black Cats 
SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Sunderland manager Phil Parkinson during a pre-season friendly match between Sunderland AFC and Harrogate Town at Stadium of Light on August 29, 2020 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images)

Sunderland concluded their preseason preparations ahead of a third League 1 season with a limp performance against EFL newcomers Harrogate Town. 

Phil Parkinson put out a strong side, many of whom will most likely feature next week in the season opener against Hull City.

Lee Burge was back in goal as he looks to step into the void left by the departed Jon Mclaughlin. Denver Hume and Luke O'Nien marshalled the flanks, with a back three of Tom Flanagan, Bailey Wright and Jordan Willis.

Max Power and Josh Scowen, who impressed together at Gateshead in Sunderland's first game of preseason, started in the centre of midfield, with Chris Maguire and Charlie Wyke both having impressed off the bench last time out against Carlisle forming a front 3 alongside American Lyndon Gooch.

There was a place on the bench for youngster Jack Diamond against his former side. There was also a place for young midfielder Dan Neil, who has been outstanding in preseason and is staking a claim for a starting berth. 

  • Story of the match

Much like Sunderland's previous two friendlies, it was a poor first half with chances few and far between.

Neither goalkeeper was tested with Harrogate showing a lack of composure in front of goal. When they managed to hit the target in the 20th minute, George Thomson's effort from distance brought a routine save from Burge. 

O'Nein's low crosses looked like it might bare fruit for Sunderland, but Harrogate were defending well and sniffing out any danger. Wyke came the closest to taking advantage early on but Harrogate keeper Joe Cracknell got to the ball before he could apply the finishing touch. 

The one big chance of the half came in stoppage time, as former Sunderland forward Jon Stead put a cross inside but defender Will Smith was unable to direct his header goalwards from close range. 

It was expected that Phil Parkinson would rally his players at halftime, and they would come out a much better team like in the previous two games. There was no reaction, though, and Sunderland were still sluggish after the restart.

It took until just after the hour mark for Sunderland to create anything meaningful, but O'Nien could only fire straight at the keeper after good buildup play from Hume and Wyke. 

For the third friendly in a row, subs changed the game. Forwards Aiden O'Brien, who had been quiet in the previous games, and Will Grigg, whose goal and assist at Gateshead was followed by a disappointing showing against Carlisle, were brought on replacing Wyke and Maguire, who both had quiet games. 

It nearly paid off instantly, O'Brien hit the post six minutes after coming on. A good low cross from Hume made it to the Ireland international but he was unable to direct his side foot shot into the goal. 

It looked like being all Sunderland could muster, but they finally made a breakthrough in the 85th minute. Youngster Dan Neil played an inch perfect through ball to Grigg who calmly slotted past the onrushing Cracknell to get Sunderland out of jail and maintain their unbeaten run in preseason. 

  • Takeaways

Despite the victory Phil Parkinson will be worried. 

The players he put out will be in contention to start next week and will be expected to deliver promotion and yet they struggled to break down a stubborn Harrogate side. 

It looks as if nothing has been learnt from past failures, as the squad lacks the quality to go toe to toe with the top sides in League 1. 

The football is pedestrian and as Harrogate showed, easy to frustrate. Harrogate had chances, and better attacking players would have took advantage. 

  • Stand-out players

The only positives Parkinson will be able to take from the game is the performances of his subs.  

Dan Neil impressed again with his passing and composure and must be seriously knocking on the door of a starting berth. 

Aiden O'Brien has looked full of energy in the past but had struggled to get involved in any meaningful way. Today he showed he's got good positional awareness, getting in the right positions. He might have scored on another day. 

Once again it was Will Grigg who came on and affected the game, which is something that hasn't been said much during his Sunderland career. He took his goal well and if he can just find some consistent form he will be the difference between mid table mediocrity and promotion, which is ultimately the goal. 

VAVEL Logo