Irish U21 star Sean Thornton made a name for himself tonight as a bit of a hero, rescuing Sunderland from what looked like a 2-0 defeat at Tynecastle tonight.
Hearts were 2-0 up at the half-time and cruising, thanks to goals from Phil Stamp and Mark De Vries but inspired substitutions from Mick McCarthy in the second half turned things around.
Hearts fielded a strong team, and Sunderland fielded a side minus the big names, instead concentrating on the players who might well become ever-presents in the coming season; the travelling contingent of Sunderland supporters were vociferous throughout.
Middlesbrough-born Phil Stamp, who transferred to Tynecastle from Boro last summer, scored Hearts’ first goal on 26 minutes, smashing a volley home from 25 yards. Only 11 minutes later the home side doubled their advantage courtesy of a Mark De Vries header from a Joe Hammill cross. It should have been 3-0 in the 40th minute and it would have been had Poom not made a point-blank save from Dennis Wyness.
Sunderland did have chances, but as was so often the case last season, failed to capitalise on them, the main talking point for Sunderland supporters in the first half being Jeff Whitley hopelessly and embarrassingly outrun by Stamp.
Only 13 minutes into the second half, McCarthy withdrew Stewart and put Michael Proctor on the field, following up 7 minutes later by taking the hapless Whitley off the field for Paul Thirlwell. But it wasn’t until the 71st minute substitution of Sean Thornton for Kevin Kilbane that the game really turned in Sunderland’s favour; only two minutes after running on, Thornton scored from a 25 yard free kick – and literally only minutes later, scored the equaliser with his very next touch – heading Oster’s cross past Gordon after good work by Kyle. Proctor almost sealed a 3-2 victory 5 minutes from time, but his shot went narrowly wide.
The lads now face Kilmarnock at 3pm on Saturday for their final pre-season friendly, with the season proper commencing a week later on August 9th at Nottingham Forest.
Sunderland: Poom; Wright, Williams, Bjorklund, McCartney; Oster, Whitley (Thirlwell 63), McAteer, Kilbane (Thornton 71); Stewart (Proctor 57), Kyle. Subs not used: Clark, Butler.