Wednesday 12 July 2017, 19.45, Tony Macaroni Arena
Scottish Championship’s Livingston against the English Championship’s Sunderland in a pre-season friendly.
When Livingston emerged in 1995 to take over Meadowbank Thistle’s place in the Scottish League they went into a newly built stadium which is still their home today. It’s been called various names, but sponsorship dictates it is currently known as the Tony Macaroni Arena after a chain of Italian Restaurants, including one local to Livingston. I don’t know if the locals refer to the ground as the MacArena for short, but I hope they do.
Livingston won Scottish League One last season, 19 points clear of second placed Alloa Athletic. Striker and League One player of the year Liam Buchanan left to go to Raith Rovers, but manager David Hopkins has been quick to add to his squad for an assault on the Championship.
Signed for the new season are East Fife midfielders Scott Robinson and Ross Brown, strikers Josh Peters from Forfar Athletic and Dylan Mackin from Motherwell. Hearts youngster Nikolay Todorov has signed on loan again to add to the attacking options.
We last saw Livingston at Albion Rovers in December 2016. The last time we saw them at home was in pre-season 2015-16, against Real Sociedad. I think it was the Energy Assets Arena then.
Livingston had already played friendlies against Hearts, Motherwell and Kilmarnock and had lost them all.
Sunderland were relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season and manager David Moyes has been replaced by Simon Grayson. We last saw Sunderland when their relegation was confirmed at the Stadium of Light against Bournemouth in April.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has gone to Everton while striker Jermaine Defoe has gone to Bournemouth. Arguably their two best players last season. Sunderland have signed defenders Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway from Everton, Galloway being on loan.
It’s the Black Cats’ third pre-season game, having won at Bury and drew with Hibs. The game with Livingston was their second of three games in Scotland, with St Johnstone still to come.
Although Livingston had suggested this was their “glamour friendly” of their pre-season, they didn’t produce a programme for the match, and the attendance was only 1,199 (which included Darren Jackson), about a third of which were in the away end.
About ten minutes before kick off, there was a group of young boys who went out and stood near the tunnel and began waving flags. I think their arms must have been in agony by the time the teams ran out.
The game was preceded by a minute’s applause for Bradley Lowery, the 6-year-old Sunderland fan who had captured the hearts of the nation before succumbing to his battle with cancer. (You can donate to his charity at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/bradleylowerysfight )
Straight from the start, Mackin headed the ball on for Pittman who worked the ball to Mullen on the right hand side of the Sunderland box, but he fired his shot just wide.
Alexander showed his confidence in the home goal in 2 minutes when he stepped away from Khazri following a passback.
A cross into the Livingston box in 8 minutes looked for Rodwell at the back post, but Lithgow was there to head behind.
Sunderland broke quickly in 13 minutes and Gooch found Khazri on the left. His cross into the middle was dangerous, but Lithgow was there again to head away from danger.
More good approach play by Sunderland in 15 minutes involving Gooch and Khazri set up Galloway to cross which was sent behind by Gallagher.
Sunderland were certainly getting plenty of practice at taking corners in the opening minutes.
An attempted clearance by Halkett in 20 minutes hit Byrne and ran into the path of Gooch on the edge of the Livingston box. His shot at goal was well parried by Alexander and was picked up by Khazri on the left who cut inside then thumped a low shot into the far corner for the opening goal.
The game was being played at a very slow pace and there was a lack of intensity all round.
Gooch played the ball into the path of Rodwell in 30 minutes, but his shot was well over the Livingston goal.
Mullen found Knox on the left as Livingston came forward in 35 minutes. He put a fabulous ball across the six-yard box but nobody could get a touch to send it into the net.
Khazri produced a great bit of skill in 39 minutes to get the ball away from his own corner flag and clear the danger for Sunderland.
With two minutes to the break Sunderland burst forward and Love cut the ball back for Rodwell on the edge of the box. As he shot at goal Halkett threw himself at the ball and managed to deflect it behind.
Not much to write home about at half time, or indeed, write in a report of the game. Sunderland’s front two of Gooch and Khazri had looked lively and Lithgow was having a fine game at left back for Livingston.
De Vita had a go at the Sunderland goal in 53 minutes, but it was off target.
Carelessness at the back by Livingston in 59 minutes let Rodwell in and he ran in on goal but saw his shot saved by Alexander. The resulting corner was played back to Gibson 25 yards out and his powerful volley flew just wide.
It was substitute central in 61 minutes as Sunderland replaced the remaining ten players who had started the game. Livingston joined in, but only with a couple.
When the game finally restarted, Pittman passed to De Vita, but his shot was poor and easy for Strjek in the Sunderland goal.
Carrick did well down the left for Livingston in 63 minutes before shooting at goal from the corner of the box. It was well struck, but straight at Alexander.
Back up the other end a minute later and Honeyman passed inside for Maja, but he shot over from the edge of the box.
With 75 minutes gone Sunderland won a free kick on the edge of the box. Lens curled the ball over the wall but it looked a comfortable save for sub keeper Maley, who had just come on. However, Maley fumbled the ball and Asoro just got there in front of team mate Maja to stab home and double his side’s lead.
A curling effort from Embleton in 87 minutes was spilled again by Maley, but he quickly recovered.
In the final minute Lens took possession at the corner of the Livingston box and showed quick feet to move inside and create space for himself. He then sent a thunderbolt towards goal that Maley didn’t even move for as it flew into the net. The ball did look pretty close to him, but it was moving all over the place.
A comfortable win in the end for Sunderland without really breaking out of third gear. While Khazri and Gooch performed well up front, their replacements Asoro and Maja also impressed, along with Lens. For the home side, Pittman and Lithgow were the stand-outs.
Not the most passionate of games, but a useful run out for both teams.
Full Time: Livingston 0 Sunderland 3
Livingston: 1 Neil Alexander (Maley 75), 31 Declan Gallagher (Hamilton 75), 26 Craig Halkett, 4 Alan Lithgow, 6 Shaun Byrne (Trialist 75), 8 Scott Pittman, 14 Keaghan Jacobs, 16 Matthew Knox (Mullin 46), 23 Raffaele De Vita (Peters 75), 10 Danny Mullen (Todorov 63), 15 Dylan Mackin (Carrick 63). Subs: 3 Jackson Longridge, 7 Josh Mullin, 9 Nikolay Todorov, 19 Dale Carrick, 20 Gary Maley, 24 Josh Peters, 30 Jack Hamilton.
Sunderland: 1 Mika Domingues (Stryjek 61), 2 Billy Jones (Lens 46), 6 John O’Shea (Kone 61), 5 Papy Djilobodji (Beadling 61), 3 Brendan Galloway (Matthews 61), 4 Darren Gibson (Cattermole 61), 7 Didier Ndong (Embleton 61), 11 Donald Love (Ledger 61), 8 Jack Rodwell (Honeyman 61), 10 Whabi Khazri (Asoro 61), 9 Lynden Gooch (Maja 61). Subs: 13 Max Stryjek, 19 Tom Beadling, 14 Adam Matthews, 20 Elliott Embleton, Ethan Robson, 18 Josh Maja, 27 Joel Asoro, 12 Lamine Kone, 15 Jeremain Lens, 16 Lee Cattermole, 17 George Honeyman, 22 Michael Ledger.
Referee: Steven Kirkland