What did we learn from Hartlepool United's pre-season draw with Sunderland

Hartlepool United rounded off their pre-season preparations with a draw against neighbours Sunderland at the Suit Direct Stadium.

Pools raced into an early lead against a much-changed Black Cats side when Jake Hastie’s cross was diverted beyond Jacob Carney by a Sunderland player.

Pools were put under pressure for significant parts of the game but to their credit, they showed their resilience in keeping the Wearsiders at bay until a loss of possession by Callum Cooke allowed Jack Diamond to draw a foul from the returning Euan Murray to win a penalty.

Elliot Embleton stepped up and dispatched well despite Ben Killip guessing the right way.

Reghan Tumilty looks set to start for Hartlepool United at Walsall after gaining another 90 minutes against Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID

Sunderland went close to taking the lead in the second half when Luke O’Nien slid in at the back post but his effort came back off the woodwork.

Josh Umerah twice came close for Pools in the closing stages, once with a clever back heel, which Carney was equal to, before firing over when rolling his defender to create space.

But what did we learn from Pools’ final pre-season outing?

Is that the XI to face Walsall?

Elliot Embleton converted from the spot to draw Sunderland level at the Suit Direct Stadium. Picture by FRANK REID

Although Paul Hartley was keen to play down this friendly with Sunderland being something of a dress rehearsal for Saturday’s trip to Walsall, you can’t help but acknowledge the fact this was a final opportunity for certain players to stake their claim.

With Jamie Sterry continuing his return to fitness - once again going through a series of fitness tests prior to the game - and Reagan Ogle missing out altogether with a thigh injury, it looks as though Reghan Tumilty is a good bet to be involved from the off to begin the new campaign.

Murray’s return to the starting XI was a welcome one in that with Rollin Menayese set to miss the trip to his parent club as part of the loan agreement with the Saddlers, Pools are short of numbers at centre-back.

Midfielder Mouhamed Niang has deputised there alongside Alex Lacey at times this pre-season but Murray’s return will give Hartley a more natural option at the weekend having banked 45 minutes here.

Hartlepool United earned a 1-1 draw with Sunderland at the Suit Direct Stadium. Picture by Martin Swinney.

Niang himself was named on the bench for the first time this pre-season with Cooke and Nicky Featherstone preferred in the deep-lying midfield roles.

Despite new signing Mikael Ndjoli being capable of operating in a number of positions, the attacking trio of Joe Grey, Hastie and Tom Crawford looks fairly assured in Hartley’s thinking.

Killip was given 45 minutes with his place as No.1 all but guaranteed as David Ferguson seems the likely selection at left-back.

What decisions does Paul Hartley have to make?

Assuming there are no setbacks in training, and Murray has come through the evening unscathed, then the back four on show against Sunderland could well be how we see Pools start at Walsall.

The decisions for Hartley will come in front of the defence and whether or not to include Niang or Mark Shelton, or stick with Cooke to partner Featherstone.

Elsewhere, Hartley will need to consider who best suits what he wants from his players up front.

Here we saw new loan signing Jack Hamilton start after back-to-back appearances for Umerah with Ndjoli on the bench.

Hamilton found himself providing more service in his own penalty area than Sunderland’s when going back to help Pools defend set-pieces.

He was replaced by Umerah at the break who added a bit more of a presence in the final third, twice going close for Pools.

Ndjoli’s introduction saw him operate down the left of Pools’ attacking quartet with his pace a potential weapon to use up against tiring legs.

What of Murray’s return? Should he partner Lacey?

In this situation, the sole focus of Murray’s return was for the defender to bank crucial minutes after a month-long lay off through injury.

Hamstring injuries can be temperamental but the Scotsman seemed to come through unscathed and despite being the one to concede the penalty, Hartley will be pleased with that outcome.

Is Saturday too soon for Murray to manage the full 90 minutes? Much will depend on how he trains this week. But the second half saw Niang, again, drop into the centre-back position and perform, meaning he could just as easily start there as opposed to midfield against the Saddlers.

The other centre-back position seems set however after what was an impressive 45 minutes from Lacey against the Black Cats.

Lacey has been integral for Hartley this pre-season and is sure to be handed his first official start for the club.

Organisation

Much like in the defeat to Blackburn Rovers, Pools had to do a tremendous amount of work without the ball.

Sunderland enjoyed the lions share of possession but Pools never buckled and remained resolute throughout with the threat of a counter-attack via Hastie’s pace.

Although they had to rely on some misfortune when it came to Sunderland in front of goal at times, Hartley will be pleased to see his tactics being carried out successfully at such an early stage.

Pools again showed they have the ability to soak up pressure and remain composed when in possession themselves and they won’t be coming up against Championship sides every week.

Tumilty and Hastie partnership

Hastie has been one of the standout performers this pre-season and you can see why the ex-Rangers man will excite supporters. He is a threat and defenders are worried by his pace and directness.

But in Tumilty, Hastie already appears to be creating quite the relationship on that right-hand-side of the pitch.

On several occasions Tumilty could be seen overlapping and working in tandem with Hastie which can only be encouraging for Hartley.

In Hastie’s absence in the second half, Grey moved over to the right with Tumilty again striking up a solid relationship as the pair created a decent opening together which saw Grey fire narrowly off target.

Tumilty’s form has ensured the concern over Sterry’s fitness has not been as significant as it might have been.

Hartlepool United XI: Killip (Letheren), Tumilty, Murray (Menayese), Lacey (Niang), Ferguson (Paterson), Featherstone, Cooke (Shelton), Hastie (Ndjoli), Crawford, Grey, Hamilton (Umerah)

Referee: David Webb

Attendance: 4,785 (1,773 Sunderland)