Sunderland friendly with Al-Shabab FC almost abandoned after huge melee

Sunderland produced a solid display to beat Al-Shabab FC in their mid-season friendly but it was a game that almost had to be abandoned after a major melee fifteen minutes before half time.

Amad had given Tony Mowbray’s side a half-time lead and they continued to carve out chances thereafter, but a scrap sparked when Lynden Gooch was confronted off-the-ball by an Al-Shabab player.

The game was eventually played to a conclusion with Sunderland holding on to their lead, on an evening when Gooch and Aji Alese made successful returns from injury.

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Sunderland had dominated the first half with a good performance, twice striking the woodwork in the opening quarter of an hour through Elliot Embleton, once off the post with his left foot and once off the bar with his right.

Amad was again influential, this time in a number ten role, and put his side ahead when collecting Abdoullah Ba’s pass and audaciously chipping the goalkeeper.

Mowbray’s side created the vast majority of the best chances, Simms drawing a good save from close range after a clever Roberts pass before firing over when Amad had carried the ball forward from deep in his own half.

The Black Cats survived a couple of scares when Batth’s back pass demanded a good block from Patterson, before Guanca fired wide when gathering an excellent pass from Banega.

Sunderland were nevertheless worthy of their lead and should have gone further ahead after changing the bulk of their side at half time, with Pritchard and Dajaku both missing good chances as their opposition seemed to begin to struggle physically.

Amad produced another brilliant performance on Friday evening

Alex Bass was forced into a strong save midway through the half, but that was the last major event (at least in terms of the actual football) of the game.

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Here’s what happened, and what we learned…

A POOR EXPERIENCE FOR FANS & A SHAMBOLIC END

Some supporters were deeply uncomfortable that this game was going ahead in the first place given the human rights record of the regime in Saudi Arabia and the broader conversations going on in football at the moment.

Those who did tune in paid £7.50 but were met with poor-quality images and camera work that was slow and missed many key incidents.

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The second half then descended into farce when a game that had been threatening to boil over throughout finally did so. Dennis Cirkin was adjudged to have fouled in the middle of the pitch and when Lynden Gooch went to speak to the referee, he was confronted by an opposition player who appeared to try and push his head towards Gooch’s. It was one of a number of off-the-ball incidents throughout and now a huge melee ensued. Staff from both sides ended up on the pitch to try and restore order, including Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and Juan Sartori. There appeared to be a chance the game could be abandoned, but after a change in personnel it was eventually resumed.

It seems fair to say that this was not a good episode all round. Pause for thought perhaps for Louis-Dreyfus and Sartori, who were watching on pitchside.

A GOOD TEST FOR THE SIDE

Al-Shabab currently sit top of the Saudi Premier League and did provide a good level of opposition, with former Sevilla midfielder Ever Banega in particular showed he is still an outstanding technician. Sunderland did well and looked a threat on the ball throughout, which was encouraging. They should have scored far more. The main caveat is that the Saudi league has been paused for some time ahead of the World Cup, so this was a team short of rhythm.

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MOWBRAY’S ATTACKING CONUNDRUM

Amad has to be in the team next Saturday, outstanding on the ball again with a good goal and almost a glorious assist.

Mowbray has spoken of getting him in the same side as Patrick Roberts, and they combined nicely here. It’s an enticing prospect, but Alex Pritchard is having a good season. A welcome dilemma.

PLAYERS TAKE THEIR CHANCE TO IMPRESS

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There were some good performances all over the pitch from Sunderland, with Jay Matete one of many to catch the eye. He was superb in the second half, carrying the ball forward and beating his opposite markers at will.

A KEY INJURY HINT

Tony Mowbray had warned in the aftermath of the 2-1 win over Birmingham City that he expected the game against Millwall to come too soon for Daniel Ballard. His absence from the friendly suggests that remains the case. He has played a part in some of the sessions in Dubai and so is in a decent place as he looks to make a first-team return, but it will clearly be a little while longer yet.

Ross Stewart was also absent from the friendly, though it’s thought he could yet make the matchday squad next weekend having played some part in the training this week. It underlined Mowbray’s previous warning, however, that like Simms it would take the Scot time to get fully up to speed. 90 minutes next Saturday looks highly unlikely at this stage.

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Both Aji Alese and Lynden Gooch seemingly came through the game unscathed, which is a boost in defensive areas. Gooch’s afternoon was in the end rather more lively than Alese’s.

AND STILL NO MICHUT

Edouard Michut was another who has been back in training this week but he played no part in the game, which suggests he could be struggling to play a part against Millwall next weekend.