Darlington 2 Sunderland 4: Giaccherini at the double as Black Cats recover from two-goal deficit in first friendly

Danny Graham challenges a Darlington player tonight
Danny Graham challenges a Darlington player tonight

Just under 12 months ago at Heritage Park, the mirror which Emanuele Giaccherini must have cracked began to wield its evil curse on the Italian international.

A groin injury suffered at the end of the pre-season programme against Real Betis began a sequence of spells on the treatment table which were to ruin Giaccherini’s campaign.

Gus Poyet had harboured high hopes that Giaccherini’s second season at the Stadium of Light would prove to be a successful one after the ex-Juventus man took his time to acclimatise to English football during his opening year of Premier League football.

But the groin problem, followed by the ankle injury, and then another ankle injury left Giaccherini a frustrated spectator for the bulk of the campaign.

Like Poyet, Dick Advocaat hopes Giaccherini can make a contribution to a healthier period for Sunderland - already likening the 30-year-old to a new signing.

And if there was one positive to take from an opening pre-season friendly last night, it was that Giaccherini netted a brace during a 90-minute run-out.

Giaccherini can be a quality performer for Sunderland if they can get him in the right areas and use him in the right manner, but he needs a position where more is made of his ability to drift into pockets of space.

Other than Giaccherini, Advocaat won’t have learned anything earth-shattering that he hadn’t recognised already.

It was simply an exercise in fitness and to knock off the rust, which was fairly prevalent during the first half, in particular.

But at least Sunderland avoided any embarrassment, which was threatening them at one stage after Darlington had forged a two-goal lead.

Even at this tender stage of the proceedings, it doesn’t pay to suffer defeats to a side who have just won promotion to the Evo-Stick Premier Division.

It was the non-leaguers who went ahead in the eighth minute when Lee Cattermole, wearing number 10, got too adventurous for his own good and lost possession as he tried to surge past three Darlington players.

Ex-Sunderland youngster Adam Mitchell fed it to Stephen Thompson, 20 yards out, who stroked a beautiful shot beyond a helpless Jordan Pickford into the bottom corner.

Thompson almost netted another peach three minutes later with a free-kick from 25 yards that required a full-length dive from Pickford to tip it behind at his near post.

But Sunderland’s embarrassment did continue when Liam Bridcutt unnecessarily dropped deep and played Mitchell onside to a hoof forwards from the back, when the Black Cats defence had all pushed up to halfway.

It left Mitchell with just Pickford to beat and he delicately lobbed the advancing keeper.

At the midway point of the first half, Sunderland halved the deficit when Darlington failed to deal with Adam Johnson’s inswinging free-kick from the right and Emanuele Giaccherini stabbed a volley home from six yards out.

As expected, Advocaat made a host of changes at the interval with Will Buckley, Vito Mannone and Connor Wickham entering the fray, plus new signings Adam Matthews and George Brady - the latter an addition to the Under-21 squad after his release by Chelsea.

Matthews slotted in a right-back, with Jones moving to the opposite flank in place of the replaced Patrick van Aanholt.

It was Danny Graham who drew Sunderland level in the 53rd minute when he collected possession down the right-hand side of the area, surged across the penalty area to the left of goal and then trickled a shot back across the keeper.

There was barely any power in Graham’s effort, but it deceived Darlington stopper Peter Jameson, plus the two defenders on the line, before bobbling into the far corner.

Darlington had a golden opportunity to regain the lead just three minutes later when a rash challenge from Brady on Dowson gave the hosts the chance from the penalty spot.

Thompson sent it powerfully towards the bottom right-hand corner, but Mannone produced a magnificent full-length dive to tip the spot-kick behind.

That save provided the platform for Sunderland to take the lead just after the hour mark when Johnson’s through-ball sent Wickham in behind the Quakers defence, down the right-hand side of the area.

Wickham took a touch to steady himself before powering a right-foot shot through the keeper’s legs.

Despite falling behind, Darlington refused to buckle - Mannone having to produce another smart stop to deny a powerful drive from Thompson.

But Giaccherini doubled his tally in the 70th minute when after Johnson twisted and turned on the edge of the area, the Italian coolly placed the lay-off back across the keeper into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

He will hope Heritage Park prompts happier times this time around.

Darlington: Jameson, Brown (Trialist 74), Galbraith (Watson 46), Burgess (White 46), Hunter (Trialist 50), Nowakowski (Portas 46), Mitchell (Youhill 46), Turnbull (Scott 57), Dowson (Trialist 46), Cartman (Trialist 57), Thompson. Sub not used: McLean.

Sunderland: Pickford (Mannone 46), Jones (Robson 74), van Aanholt (Matthews 46), Bridcutt (Smith 74), Brown (Brady 46), Beadling, Giaccherini, Defoe (Wickham 46), Graham, Cattermole (Buckley 46), Johnson.