Sunderland came from behind to draw 1-1 with Derby County at the SOL in their opening fixture on their return to the Championship on Friday evening. The visitors took an early lead against the run of play through Bradley Johnson after he pounced after some slack defending but Sunderland rallied and levelled before the break when Lewis Grabban converted from the spot. It was an encouraging display from Simon Grayson’s side with plenty of positives to be taken although we still need to tighten up at the back.
New gaffer Simon Grayson confirmed that despite his antics last weekend after the defeat to Celtic Darron Gibson would be available for selection as would the seven new signings he has made so far. Grayson admitted his team named this evening would probably be different after the transfer window closes with several players still expected to leave whilst being hopeful of more new arrivals.
Derby County headed to Wearside with new signings Tom Huddleston, Curtis Davies and Andre Wisdom all expected to feature although former Sunderland striker and mercenary Darren Bent missed out with a hamstring strain allegedly caused by carrying his wallet in his trouser pocket. The Rams manager Gary Rowett was bullish before the game and laid out his plans for the season targeting promotion after his side missed out on a playoff spot last season.
Grayson, whose season objective is also surely promotion named his first competitive starting eleven and a 4-4-2 formation with new signing Jason Steele playing behind a back four of Jones, Browning, Kone and Galloway. In a midfield Lee Cattermole captained the side and was joined in the engine room by Didier N’Dong with McGeady and Honeyman on the flanks. James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban spearheaded Sunderland’s attack.
There was a minute’s appreciation for Bradley Lowery before kick-off who lost his fight against neuroblastoma early last month which was warmly applauded by the whole stadium while a touching tribute played on the big screens for the little man. RIP.
Sunderland got the game underway kicking towards the south stand and had been revealed during the week the pitch has been shortened and narrowed to make it smaller. We started well with Galloway galloping down the left and firing just wide before Vaughan fired off target. Honeyman, operating on the right flank did well to skip past his man and clip a ball across goal which Grabban turned wide.
In their first attack and against the run of play The Ram’s took the lead as Brendon Galloway was exposed at left back by Johnny Russel who crossed the ball which fell kindly to Johnson in the six yard box to fire past Steele. Derby began to get a bit of a foothold in the game and started targeting Galloway and got a bit of joy forcing a corner but Sunderland defended well. Derby had another opportunity on twenty minutes when Huddlestone had shot from range which Steele fumbled but managed to recover and grab the loose ball.
Sunderland almost equalised through an unlikely source when Lee Cattermole fired a half volley goal wards which seemed destined for the top corner until Scott Carson turned it over. The chance came after a well delivered free kick from McGeady was nodded down by want away defender Lamine Kone.
We had another effort on goal from another set piece after great work from Lee Cattermole won a free kick midway in the Derby half. As he did for most of the game, McGeady whipped in another great cross which was cleared only as far as Grabbon on the edge of the box who thundered a shot over the bar.
Sunderland did draw level before the break when Jacob Butterfield handled falling over in the box and with James Vaughan missing two spot kicks in pre-season Lewis Grabban was on penalty duty. The on loan forward made no mistake driving the ball low into the bottom right hand corner past corner. In first half injury time at the other end of the pitch Derby wanted a penalty after a challenge by Cattermole on Butterfield but the referee waved away the protests.
After the break Sunderland went close when Vaughan fired just past the post after he latched onto Honeyman’s hot what had rebounded into his path. It was an instinctive effort from the striker and he was unfortunate to see it go wide of the post.
Sunderland went even closer ten minutes later after good pressing from Cattermole saw the skipper win possession and burst into the box before having the awareness to square to Grabban. Grabban made space for the shot letting the ball run across him and took a defender out of play but his shot crashed off the post and away to safety.
Derby made a couple of changes as the game wore on and started to get on top again and should have scored when Chris Martin was found unmarked on the edge of the box but he skied his shot well over the bar. At the death Galloway was caught out again at the back post but when the ball was nodded into the path of substitute David Nugent Steele did well to come out and smother the danger.
Final Score: Sunderland 1 Derby County 1
ALS Man of the Match: Lewis Grabban
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