SAFC Analysis: Sunderland make hard work of taming the Shrews in a cup tie to forget
When Adnan Januzaj signed for Sunderland, it was a real chance for him to recapture his early promise at Manchester United.
David Moyes was banking on it.
And the 21-year-old Belgian repaid some of that faith with a stunning strike against Shrewsbury Town to see the Black Cats through to the third round of the EFL Cup.
They made damn hard work of it, though.
It was a dire evening of football and one that certainly won’t last long in the memory of the 13,000-plus fans inside the Stadium of Light.
Moyes named as strong a side as he could, with Vito Mannone’s elbow injury keeping him out, Jeremain Lens missing with a foot problem and Jermain Defoe rested ahead of the Premier League trip to Southampton.
The football and entertainment on show was awful, from both sides, with the keepers barely having saves to make in the opening half.
Januzaj popped up with a stunning strike six minutes from time, to save everyone the added strain of extra-time and, potentially, penalties.
Sunderland should have comfortably beaten Micky Mellon’s side, but it perhaps highlighted again that this will be once again another tough year on Wearside.
There were some positives, aside from progressing into the third round.
Steven Pienaar was the stand-out performer in his 60-minute spell, assured in central midfield, keeping play nice and simple.
Lynden Gooch again looked tidy in central midfield, while 17-year Joel Asoro looks a real talent after he made his full debut up front.
Sunderland will today confirm the arrival of Javier Manquillo – but the teamsheet again highlighted the need for further recruits before August 31.
Moyes made four changes to the side beaten by Middlesbrough, Mannone and Defoe missing out, Duncan Watmore dropped down to the bench and John O’Shea out with a hip problem.
Moyes handed England Under-21 international Jordan Pickford and Wahbi Khazri their first starts of the season, with Pienaar handed his full debut alongside Asoro.
Khazri was poor on his return to the first team, losing possession too easily in dangerous positions, he looked a long way off the player who ended last season.
It is still early days, but the Tunisian winger needs to show a vast improvement if he is to force his way back into Moyes starting line-up in the Premier League.
He showed more spark after the break and laid Januzaj in for the goal, but overall it was a disappointing return to action from the wideman.
Asoro caught the eye though.
The 17-year-old became the club’s youngest ever player to play in the Premier League when he came off the bench against Boro.
The Swede, highly-rated by Moyes and his coaching staff, scored seven goals in 14 appearances for the Under-18s last season before his promotion to the first-team squad.
Sunderland started well on a balmy night on Wearside, winning two dangerous free-kicks in the opening 10 minutes of the game.
But first Januzaj and then left-back Patrick van Aanholt blasted their efforts straight into the wall.
For all their positive work on the outskirts of the penalty area, Sunderland lacked a goal threat in the opening 15 minutes, with ex-Boro keeper Jayson Leutwiler untested.
Sunderland’s set pieces were poor, with too many free-kicks and corners squandered.
It was a dire first half, with too many mistakes from both sides, possession gifted away and no real efforts on goal in the opening 45 minutes.
The game briefly sparked into life when the impressive Pienaar burst through on goal, but, under pressure, he cleared the crossbar, and that was one of the better chances.
Captain for the night van Aanholt almost put Sunderland 1-0 up two minutes before half-time, but Leutwiler was quick off his line to smother the danger.
Sunderland lacked penetration as League One Shrewsbury went in level at the break.
After one of the worst 45 minutes you are likely to see this season, surely the second half would be better?
Shrewsbury were poor too, fifth-bottom in the third tier of English football, they hadn’t tested England Under-21 cap Pickford in the Sunderland goal.
The second half started in a similar vein to the first.
Sunderland then carved out their best effort on 57 minutes, Januzaj slipping the ball into the feet of Asoro 10 yards out, but his shot was blocked at close range by Leutwiler.
Had he scored, he would have been the club’s youngest scorer since 1971.
Pickford then made a flying save five minutes later to deny on-loan Magpie Ivan Toney, who had fired in a superb shot on an angle from the left-hand side of the area.
Sunderland should have taken the lead after 78 minutes, Gooch slipped in van Aanholt, who cut the ball back to Khazri six yards out.
He hit his shot well enough but couldn’t get the direction right as it flew wide of the left-hand post.
Finally, Sunderland got the breakthrough in the 84th minute thanks to a screamer from Manchester United loanee Januzaj.
Pickford released Watmore, who burst forward. The ball fell to Khazri, who played in Januzaj 22 yards out from goal and he made no mistake with a stunning effort.
Sunderland should have had a penalty after Adam El-Abd fouled Asoro inside the area but referee Jeremy Simpson waved it away.
Sunderland – who survived a late scare from sub George Waring’s header – had just about done enough. They are through to the third round of the EFL Cup.
The next task facing Moyes is to add more strength, depth and quality to his Sunderland side over the coming days.
Manquillo is a positive start, but much more is needed.