Port Vale 1 Sunderland 2: Black Cats make it through to second round of Carabao Cup
Sunderland came through late Port Vale rally and a floodlight failure to book their place in the second round of the Carabao Cup.
Alex Pritchard made his Black Cats debut and produced a fine assist for Josh Hawkes to land his first Sunderland goal.
Aiden O’Brien doubled his side’s advantage with a second-half penalty, but a goal from Jamie Proctor made for a nervy finish at Vale Park.
Despite playing some good football in stages, Lee Johnson’s side for the most part struggled for real fluency against a well organised opponent, who will have been left frustrated with the end result.
For Sunderland it was a stern test and a valuable run-out for a number of players, including summer signing Pritchard.
Johnson had rung the changes as expected, making clear that while he was keen to build some winning momentum, the league would take priority in every decision he makes this season.
Perhaps unsurpisingly, Sunderland were sluggish in the opening exchanges, struggling to build much rhythm with unfamiliar partnerships all over the pitch.
Though there were some moments of individual quality from the likes of Pritchard and Hawkes, too often the ball was given away cheaply.
Port Vale, to their credit, looked well organised and caused problems with their habit of releasing their wide players with big switches of play. They thought they should have been ahead when Anthony Patterson spilled a free kick lofted into the box from deep, but the referee had already blown for a foul.
Though that had been an uncomfortable moment for the young goalkeeper, his willingness to get off his line was impressive throughout the early minutes. Given the slackness elsewhere, the composure of Ellis Taylor on his full debut at left back was also notable.
Vale were struggling to turn that threat into clear cut chances, though former Manchester United youngster James Wilson should perhaps have done better when he surged free down the left of the Sunderland box. The angle was narrow, and his effort was well wide of Patterson’s far post.
That opening did spark the visitors into life a touch, with Dan Neil started to become more influential in the centre of midfield.
He played a part in the first real chance Sunderland forged moments later, driving towards the box and combining well with Pritchard. The debutant released Jack Diamond, who had until that point endured a frustrating first half. He did well to take the ball down, leaving Stone stranded in the Vale goal. On his weaker foot, his chipped effort bounced just inches wide of the far post.
Stone nearly erred when Hawkes drove into the box shortly afterwards, spilling a weak effort just wide of the far post.
Darrell Clarke’s side should have gone ahead when they again got free down the left, Wilson this time firing well over the bar from the middle of the box.
Sunderland punished them ruthlessly; Patterson sparking a counter that saw Pritchard drive through the opposition half. His pass was good, and Hawkes did superbly to get the ball out of his feet with his first touch, before firing into the far corner with his second.
The Black Cats were growing into it, though Patterson had to make a soid stop to deny Worrall just before the break as he burst into the box from the right flank.
Sunderland doubled their advantage shortly after the break, Taylor playing a clever pass infield from the left flank. Neil was in space and drove forward with intent, playing an excellent through ball to the heart of the box. Diamond showed his turn of pace to meet the ball, drawing the foul from Stone. The home side were adamant that Stone had got to the ball first, but the Black Cats took full advantage of the opening.
O’Brien stepped up and did well to beat Stone, who went the right way. The Irishman’s composure was all the more impressive as there had been a significant delay before he could strike the ball, as a pitch invader from the home stands wandered round the turf entirely unchallenged.
Vale went close to a response as the hour mark approached, Smith thumping a header from a free kick from the right flank wide of the near post.
Sunderland had been forced just a little deeper after that bright start to the half, though some quick play almost yielded a third when Hawkes curled a superb effort just wide of the far post from the edge of the box.
The visitors looked comfortable but the game was turned on its head with just over twenty minutes to play. Worrall got free down the right and played a low cross to the heart of the goal. Patterson and Wright were unable to deal with it, and Proctor had the simplest of finishes.
Vale were building up a head of steam but the game then had to be delayed as two floodlights failed.
The final quarter of the game resumed with half of the pitch in darkness as the floodlights slowly whirred back into life, Vale in the ascendancy as the ever-dangerous Worrall had an effort deflected just wide of the near post.
The Black Cats had to survive eight minutes of injury-time pressure, Patterson making one superb save from a Proctor header to protect the win.
Sunderland XI: Patterson; Younger, Wright, Flanagan, Taylor (Doyle, 74); Neil, O’Nien; Diamond (McGeady, 65) , Pritchard (Grigg, 65), Hawkes; O’Brien
Subs: Burge, Evans, Doyle, Stewart, Gooch
Port Vale XI: Stone, Jones (Cass, 65) , Walker (Amoo, 65) , Legge, Smith, Worrall, Garrity, Wilson (Bailey, 75), Benning, Proctor, Pett
Subs: Gibbons, Hurst, Johnson, Martin, Bailey
Bookings: Diamond, 21 Worrall, 49 Taylor, 55 Walker, 60 Doyle, 85 Younger, Amoo,