Sunderland prove too strong for Hearts

Aiden McGeady’s first half brace was enough to see Sunderland defeat Hearts in a friendly at Tynecastle. Jamie McIntosh reports. 

Photo Credit – Jamie McIntosh

The visitors named a strong side for their trip to Edinburgh and had the perfect opportunity to take the lead after 13 minutes. Aiden McGeady slid the ball through for Ross Stewart, who was allegedly brought down by his namesake in the Hearts goal and a spot-kick was awarded. 

The ex-Celtic man stepped up and rolled the ball into the corner, as Ross Stewart dived the opposite way to make it 0-1 to the Black Cats with the game’s only real opening. 

Hearts grabbed the ascendency after the goal, dominating possession with Liam Boyce and Gary Mackay-Steven coming closest to levelling the match on the half hour mark. 

You don’t tend to see many bookings in pre-season friendlies, but the first card was brandished just moments later. McGeady went down in the box looking for a penalty, but instead was booked for simulation, much to the delight of the home fans. 

Aiden O’Brien had two great opportunities to send the visitors in 2-0 up at the break but failed to take either, firstly being denied by Ross Stewart before striking the crossbar with his second attempt.

Not to worry however, as the more clinical McGeady found space on the left and lashed the ball past Ross Stewart to double the visitors’ lead just before half time. 

Hearts fans have liked what they’ve seen from Finlay Pollock so far. The youngster made his senior debut in Tuesday’s win over Cove Rangers – he hit the post that evening and came close again today. This time, his effort was deflected over the bar early in the second half. 

Hearts had made eight subs by the time the game had reached the hour mark, as is the norm in pre-season matches. Youngsters Leo Watson, Scott McGill, Connor Smith and Euan Henderson were introduced, as well as the returning Jordan Roberts, Loic Damour and Mihai Popescu. 

Damour followed McGeady into the referee’s notebook for simulation with 20 minutes remaining. Hearts continued to push for a route back into the match and did look the likelier of the two teams to score in the second half, although the game had fallen a little flat after all the substitutions. 

There hadn’t been many chances of note at all in the second half, but the Jambos nearly pulled a goal back with 12 minutes to go. Connor Smith struck a sweet volley from the edge of the box, but the substitute saw his effort bounce back off the foot of the post. 

That was the final opportunity and Sunderland held on for a clean sheet in a hard fought 2-0 win in Scotland’s capital.

Robbie Neilson’s post-match reaction:

“I thought it was great, I’m really pleased with it. Obviously, you want to win all your pre-season games, but for me it’s about working on our shape and being able to show the players where we can improve. The last few games have been brilliant, but we found new challenges today.

“Today was a great workout and we’ve got some good stuff to take from it, both attackingly and defensively, but there’s some things small need to sort out, like sometimes I thought we were bit to open in the middle areas about who presses and who sits.” 

On the missing first team players: 

“Craig (Gordon) got a wee bit of time off, Gino (Josh Ginnelly) and (Stephen) Kingsley were just a wee bit tight, but they’ll definitely be in contention for Tuesday.” 

On McGeady the match winner: 

“He’s still sharp, he’s got good feet and good movement, he’s done very well for Sunderland – I think he’ll be a big player for them this season.” 

On incoming signings: 

“We’re still trying, there’s a couple we’re still trying to get over the line, but it’s been slow, we’re continuing to work away.”

On youngsters impressing off the bench:

“I thought all the young ones did well, Scott McGill on the right of the three was comfortable and Smith and Watson at wingback were great too. We’ve got some great talent here, but we just need time to develop them.”

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