key man absence, Sunderland’s transfer priority plus Niall Huggins’ interesting role at…

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Danny Batth’s absence, Sunderland’s transfer priority plus Niall Huggins’ interesting role at Gateshead

What we learnt from Sunderland’s pre-season friendly against Gateshead at the Gateshead International Stadium.

Sunderland came from two goals down to win 3-2 at Gateshead in a pre-season friendly – with a mixture of first-team and academy players involved.

Despite a bright start, the Black Cats found themselves two goals behind after Connor Pani’s deflected effort and an excellent strike from Adam Campbell in the 23rd minute.

Dan Neil pulled a goal back for Sunderland before half-time, while second-half goals from Niall Huggins and substitute Michael Spellman turned the game around.

Here are some of the main takeaways from the match:

Danny Batth’s absence

As half of Sunderland’s squad played earlier in the day at South Shields, there was a notable absentee from the two teams.

Sunderland were without several players due to injuries, including Ross Stewart, Corry Evans, Aji Alese, Elliot Embleton, Jenson Seelt and Dennis Cirkin, yet centre-back Danny Batth had returned to training following a knee injury at the end of last season.

Batth is set to travel with the Sunderland squad to America later this month after picking up a minor injury and missing the Gateshead fixture.

The 32-year-old has been linked with Championship rivals Blackburn this summer, though, and only has one year left on his contract on Wearside.

New signing Nectarios Triantis was in attendance at Gateshead after landing in the UK earlier in the day from Australia. Understandably, the 20-year-old wasn’t named in the squad to face Gateshead.

A familiar striker dilemma

With Stewart still sidelined and expected to miss the start of the season with an achilles injury, new signing Luis Semedo was involved at South Shields earlier in the day.

That meant Sunderland were forced to play without a recognised centre-forward against Gateshead – as they did many times last season.

The Black Cats are still looking to sign another striker this summer but started with Alex Pritchard in a false No 9 position here, rotating with Jewison Bennette.

But while Pritchard did well to link up play and press from the front, Sunderland lacked a natural focal point as they looked to play the ball forward.

There were times when the visitors were caught out trying to play the ball into midfield, without the option to mix it up at times.

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As the game opened up in the second half, there were more chances for Sunderland to make their possession count.

After over a year of injury setbacks, this feels like a big pre-season for Huggins.

The 22-year-old has hardly featured for the first team since joining Sunderland from Leeds two years ago, and his role was an interesting one here.

While it looked like Huggins would start as a left wing-back, he predominately found himself in midfield when Sunderland had possession.

The Black Cats altered their shape between a back three and back four in and out of possession, with Huggins’ versatility proving useful.

He also played a key part in the final result, converting Sunderland’s equaliser with a fine strike.

Sunderland XI: Bass, Hume, Ballard, Anderson, Johnson, Huggins, Neil, Bellingham, Roberts, Bennette, Pritchard

Goals: Pani (20), Campbell (23), Neil (39), Huggins (64), Spellman (81)

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