Key points from Sunderland’s draw at Hibs

Jeremain Lens celebrates his goal with Rees Greenwood.
Jeremain Lens celebrates his goal with Rees Greenwood.

Sunderland began their Scotland tour with a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Hibs at Easter Road yesterday.

The Black Cats had looked comfortable for most of the game but were exposed late on as Hibernian scored twice and came close to a winner.

It was nevertheless an important afternoon for Simon Grayson, who welcomed back a number of senior players in Jeremain Lens, John O’Shea and Didier Ndong. Elliot Embleton also made his first appearance of pre-season alongside a host of other young players.

The Black Cats boss fielded two entirely seperate sides in each half, operating with a 4-2-3-1 in the opening period before switching to 4-3-3 in the second, with Lee Cattermole operating as the anchor man and defensive shield.

So what were the key talking points from the game?

Khazri sparkles but is his role waiting for McGeady?

In a first half that otherwise offered little entertainment, Wahbi Khazri was an entertaining presence and a class above any other player in the pitch.

He began in the left wing role but clearly had the freedom to drift infield and affect the attacking play however he seemed fit.

It was striking how often his team-mates looked to release him and get him on the ball, and he rarely disappointed.

The Tunisian can, without question, make a great impact in the Championship, even if it remains likely that he will leave in the coming months.

Perhaps, however, the role he played today is perfect for Aiden McGeady, who starred cutting in from the left for Grayson at Preston last season.

Grayson has already talked of the importance of players in the wide areas and whichever systems he uses, creativity on the flank will be absolutely crucial. If Khazri does leave then he will leave a significant creative void. It might well be that Sunderland are already preparing to ask McGeady to step in.

John McGinn shows why there has been so much hype

David Moyes was a regular at Easter Road last season, keeping tabs on striker Jason Cummings as he prepared to overhaul his strikeforce.

Moyes of course left and Nottingham Forest moved quickly to snap up the talented if still largely unproven marksman.

Another player to catch Moyes’ eye was midfielder John McGinn, who impressed with his willingness to set the tempo in midfield and look for the forward pass at every opportunity.

Central midfield is one position where Sunderland look well set for this season, but Grayson would revel in one of his current players performing a similar role.

Lee Cattermole, it must be said, was a dominant presence and helped the Black Cats take control at the start of the second period.

Maja is a serious talent

This time last season Joel Asoro was making the headlines as he broke into the first team.

The Swedish striker has joined the squad in Scotland but is still getting up to match fitness, presenting Maja with an opportunity to impress from the off.

Asoro shows the importance of not attaching to much importance when it comes to pre-season games but Maja nevertheless could have done little more.

He was lively again, showing he has pace, a good first touch, real presence and a ferocious left foot.

Grayson will invest in his strikeforce and Maja will drop down the pecking order, but it is impossible not to be excited by the way his game is developing.

In the early stages, he and Khazri illuminated a dull game.

Can Papy restart his Sunderland career?

Djilobodji raised eyebrows when he said that he would look for a Premier League move in the summer.

Given his form last season, which culminated in a ban for violent conduct that effectively ended his season, it seemed unlikely in the extreme.

He and Lamine Kone had at one stage looked to be developing a promising partnership last season but an injury to the Ivorian badly affected his partner.

They have started the first two pre-season games together but Kone will be sold in the coming weeks.

Djilobodji’s future is less clear, but he has started the campaign well and made some key interceptions in the first half against Hibernian.

John O’Shea and Brendan Galloway will provide competition but if there are no takers for the Senegalese centre-half, it would be a boost if he can continue to improve.

Mannone ready to be No. 1

There has been talk of John Ruddy and Sam Johnstone, among others, signing for Sunderland but a goalkeeper need not be a priority.

Mannone is more than good enough to be the main man in the Championship and put in an authoritative performance at Easter Road, making some excellent saves as well as impressing in the way he handled set-pieces.

Question marks persist over Mika, who should have saved Martin Boyle’s effort, but any stopper who does arrive ought not to be a significant investment to eat up a chunk of the limited budget.

Pickford’s emergence made Mannone look certain to leave but the landscape has changed now and he could yet continue his fine service for the Black Cats.

Unfamiliar roles aplenty

The need to get the entire squad minutes means a number of players playing out position in the pre-season period.

Results, understandably, were mixed.

George Honeyman looked uncomfortable on the right wing, having impressed mostly when played through the middle.

Billy Jones looks far happier at right-back but his cutback and cross from the left for the opener was superb. Jack Rodwell operated higher up the field than usual and showed some good touches, though perhaps not the craft for that playmaking role.

Lee Cattermole sat deep and in his sharpest display for a while, dictated the pace of the game.