Football: Blushing Ball misses his cue

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The Independent Online
Sunderland 0

Sampdoria 0

Sampdoria won 1-0 on penalties Attendance: 27,506

AFTER SUNDERLAND'S passionate pursuit of the Premiership last season, they have had a perplexing summer, losing as many players as they have signed and will have learned little from this lacklustre friendly.

Last season Sunderland swept all before them in the Nationwide, winning the championship by 18 points, and appeared to need four good squad players to give them a survival chance. But they have lost Lee Clark to Fulham after he popped up in the Newcastle end at the FA Cup final sporting a T-shirt that, in this region of deep tribal loyalty, did not wear well with the Mackems. They have also lost the hugely promising 20-year-old striker Michael Bridges to David O'Leary's school of excellence at Leeds and Allan Johnston has lost Peter Reid's favour due to a contract dispute and is now out in the cold rather than out on the wing where he sparkled last year.

Ironically, then, yesterday's game against Sampdoria, themselves freshly relegated from Serie A, was a testimonial for Kevin Ball, starting his 10th season on Wearside after a pounds 350,000 move from his first club, Portsmouth, in pre- Premiership days.

Perhaps echoing their supporters' apprehensions, a fret drifted off the sea as the game kicked off with Sunderland fielding just one new signing: Steve Bould, a pounds 400,000 acquisition from Arsenal. In a previous friendly against Rangers the 36-year-old defender had headed past his own keeper Thomas Sorensen after a mix-up and the early evidence here was that he still has difficulty communicating with the Dane.

On the bench was Thomas Helmer, the 34-year-old veteran who arrived on a free from Bayern Munich, and on the physio table was the pounds 3.75m Stefan Schwarz. The former Arsenal player tweaked a thigh in his first training session since arriving from Valencia but he should be fit for next weekend's opener.

On the pitch, Nicky Summerbee, one half of the wing duo who so troubled Division One teams last season, flitted down the right, hanging hopeful crosses for Niall Quinn. In midfield, Alex Rae returned from seven months injury - both physical and mental judging by his time in a stress clinic - and looked tidy and thoughtful.

His cross in the 41st minute after an exciting burst from Michael Gray provided the only chance of the first half which Kevin Phillips headed over. Phillips also missed the simplest of gifts in the 77th minute but having scored 60 goals in the last two seasons, his potency must be a threat to the Premiership. Indeed it has to be for even when Danny Dichio is fit, Sunderland look short up front.

Carsten Fredgaard's 30-minute run-out for Sunderland did not reveal much and Helmer's 45-minute partnership with Bould in a 70-year-old pairing was not tested. The German could, though, have saved Ball's blushes on his big day as he headed over in the 90th minute.

Sudden-death penalties ensued and Ball missed the first, leaving Francesco Flachi the dubious honour of raining on his testimonial.

Sunderland: Sorensen, Makin, Gray, Ball, Bould, Butler, Summerbee, Rae, Quinn, Phillips, Lumsdon. Substitutes used: Helmer, Roy, Fredgaard.

Sampdoria: Sereni, Vieira, Tosto, Vasari, Palmieri, Doriva, Casale, Ficini, Sakic, Estosito, Stendardo. Substitutes used: Ambrosio, Pesaresi, Cate, Flachi, Sgro, Vergassola.

Referee: E Wolstenholme (Blackburn).