MARTIN O’NEILL was quietly thrilled with the way Sunderland played in disposing of Morecambe.
It may have only been 2-0 in terms of the final scoreline and it may only have been League Two opposition, but there was a swagger, confidence and skill level about Sunderland that has not been seen for a long time.
New signing Adam Johnson’s creative input offered a fresh dimension to Sunderland’s attack.
And the manager knows his side will take some containing now they have strengthened significantly going forward.
“I was very pleased,” he explained.
“I thought Morecambe played very well indeed. I’ve watched them this season and I thought their performance against us was the best I’ve seen them play – so we did well to win in the way we did.
“I thought Adam Johnson had an outstanding game. He’s an excellent player and I wish him all the best. He was terrific.
“We played on both sides with width and composure.
“We looked a threat.
“Yes, there were moments in the game where I thought we were getting a bit sloppy, particularly in the second-half, but overall we were very good.”
Apart from Johnson, the Sunderland manager noted the contributions of two players who had very different games – Steven Fletcher, who got an hour’s work under his belt, and Lee Cattermole, who shone, in a defensive midfield role.
He said: “I was pleased with Steven Fletcher who has played less than 45 minutes competitive football in pre-season – the game will have done him good.
“But I was also pleased with Lee Cattermole who can make a great contribution if he stays fit.
“Generally, I was really excited by us and the way we played.
“It doesn’t matter about the calibre of the opposition if you can stretch teams and you have players capable of twisting and turning and getting the crowd excited.”
While all the pre-match attention was focused on the impending debuts of Johnson and fellow new recruit Fletcher, it was actually James McClean who did the business of putting the Shrimps to the sword on the night.
The 23-year-old Irish wideman struck in both halves with adept finishes to bring his tally of goals to eight in his first 31 appearances for the Black Cats – the sort of return any Premier League midfielder would be proud of
It took until the 20th minute for the game to really spark into life, when Johnson’s long ball to Fletcher was headed back into the path of Colback who measured his stride before driving a powerful low shot goalwards which keeper Barry Roche blocked.
The Morecambe keeper though could do little about Sunderland taking the lead midway through the half after a Gardner free-kick was deflected out for a corner.
Johnson drove a teasing outswinger in from the right – Seb Larsson is now no longer the only player at the club who can produce genuinely dangerous corner-kick deliveries – and McClean sprinted forward to power a header down and in at the near post.
Johnson lifted a shot just over the bar in the 61st minute after a direct run and with the home team beginning to get a head of steam up again, they doubled their lead in the 65th when Gardner flicked the ball into the path of Johnson who made ground down the right and pulled the ball back for McClean inside the box.
The winger’s first-touch wrong-footed the visitors defence and he controlled the ball again to drive an awkward-looking right-foot shot across Roche and into the keeper’s bottom right-hand corner.
And that was enough to see Sunderland safely through in a competition they are intent on doing well in this season.