safc.com’s Oscar Chamberlain recaps all the action from Easter Road as Sunderland continued their 2017-18 pre-season campaign with a tough-tackling four-goal encounter against SPL side Hibernian.
After fighting back from a 2-0 deficit on Friday evening, Sunderland themselves went from heroes to zeroes as the Black Cats squandered a two-goal lead against Hibernian on Sunday. Wahbi Khazri dazzled in the opening 45 minutes and the wing wizard was rewarded with a goal four minutes before the break, as Billy Jones’ never-say-die attitude paid off and the Tunisian volleyed home his excellent cross. Jeremain Lens returned to red and white with a goal six minutes into his return as fellow substitute Rees Greenwood supplied a classy assist, but the drama was far from over. With 69 minutes played Martin Boyle raced clear before squeezing the ball past Mika at this near post, and three minutes later they were level as Simon Murray finished from close range after good work from David Gray. A stunning intervention from Adam Matthews prevented Hibs from completing the comeback with the woodwork also coming to Sunderland’s rescue in a feisty encounter at Easter Road.
SUNSHINE ON LEITH
Well, not really. A dark and gloomy day in Edinburgh did little to discourage the red and white army, though, with over 1,000 Sunderland fans traveling up to Easter Road for the Lads’ second pre-season outing. Simon Grayson called upon Josh Maja from the first whistle with the 18-year-old, who scored twice at Bury, leading the line, as Elliot Embleton also came into the starting XI after helping England under-20s win the Toulon Tournament. Meanwhile, Lewis Stevenson captained Hibernian in his testimonial as the defender celebrated 17 years at the club. And there was also a blast from the past within the Hibs ranks, with former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant amongst the substitutes.
A confident start from Sunderland saw Wahbi Khazri and Maja combine to mouth-watering effect. The former picked up the ball on the edge of his own box and skipped past one, two, three Hibs defenders before sliding the ball into the path of Maja. The 18-year-old still had it all to do, but he made it look easy, weaving his way past two defenders before being scythed to ground as he looked to pull the trigger from 18 yards. Khazri stepped up and, with a little help from the wall, saw his free-kick crash against the crossbar before George Honeyman was crowded out and the home side cleared. Dylan McGeough had Hibs’ first sight at goal shortly after, but Vito Mannone had it covered and watched on as the midfielder’s low drive whistled past the post.
PULLING THE STRINGS
Khazri continued to impress throughout the opening 45 minutes and he was at the heart of Sunderland’s best play in the final third. The Tunisian was electric on the counter and refused to give the Hibs backline a moments rest, with the movement of Jack Rodwell and Maja also causing problems whenever Khazri was on the ball. A cheeky dummy from George Honeyman from Khazri’s threaded pass saw Rodwell turn and fire at goal before the break, but the Black Cats finally got their reward with 41 minutes played. And, unsurprisingly it was Khazri who struck. A superb recovery from Billy Jones saw the defender somehow keep the ball in and find a cross, and what a delivery it was a Khazri arrived bang on que to steer the ball beyond Ofir Marciano from eight yards.
BACK WITH A BANG
Sunderland made 11 changes at the interval as the likes of John O’Shea, Didier Ndong and new signing Brendan Galloway made their first appearances of the campaign, but it was the return of another which caught the eye. Just six minutes into this first appearance for the club in almost a year, Jeremain Lens sent a sumptuous finish into the back of the net following an inventive backheel from Rees Greenwood. And it was no more than the Black Cats deserved with Lee Cattermole bossing the midfielder – and the game – following the restart.
TWIST IN THE TALE
Simon Grayson’s side were cruising with 68 minutes played but within the blink of an eye the home side struck twice and set up and intriguing finale. Despite it still being early in pre-season, the Sunderland won’t have been pleased by the ease with which Hibs found a route back into the game, with Boyle springing the offside trap before squeezing the ball past Mika at his near post after 69 minutes. And three minutes later the sides were level, as the Black Cats switched off again and allowed Gray to flash the ball across goal where Murray simply couldn’t miss. Last-ditch defending followed for the Black Cats with Matthews providing a moment of defensive brilliance before Oli Shaw clattered the woodwork. But it was a more than satisfying afternoon’s work from the Lads, who capped off a tough week with more valuable minutes.
Referee: Gavin Duncan
Hibernian: Marciano, Gray (Murray, 75), McGregor, Fontaine (Pennant, 59), Bartley (Shaw, 75), McGinn, Boyle, Murray (Martin, 75), McGeouch (Graham, 59), Swanson (Porteous, 59), Stevenson.
Subs: Laidlaw, Crane.
Sunderland XI [first-half]: Mannone, Love, Djilobodji, Kone, Jones, Gibson, Rodwell, Embleton, Honeyman, Khazri, Maja.
Sunderland XI [second-half]: Mika, Matthews, O’Shea, Beadling, Galloway, E Robson, Cattermole, Ndong, Greenwood, Gooch, Lens.