The Papa John’s Trophy may not be of much significance to Sunderland but it was an excellent excuse to rediscover their confidence on Tuesday evening.
The Black Cats have drawn two successive games since returning from a bout of Covid that saw four matches postponed but they finally returned to winning ways this week.
They secured a comfortable 2-0 win over Port Vale but they were quite unfortunate it wasn’t more. Lee Johnson’s team selection was close to spot on as his dynamic attack tore the opposition to shreds.
Aiden O’Brien and Aiden McGeady popped up with the two goals, but it was hard to ignore the performance of Elliot Embleton.
The attacker has predominantly played in midfield this season but was given a rare chance to flourish further forward on Tuesday. It was an opportunity that he took brilliantly, running the Vale defence ragged.
Embleton set the tone in the first-half when he very nearly won his side a penalty. He got beyond his man and then looked to have been brought down just inside the area. However, the referee awarded a free-kick just outside the 18-yard box.
From that moment onwards, the youngster didn’t look back and was a constant threat down the flanks. Previously described as a “nightmare” to play against by Max Power, he lived up to that billing in midweek.
The 21-year-old was an absolute dynamo, striking the woodwork with an attempt on goal that he was mightily unfortunate not to score with.
Furthermore, Embleton was successful with all three of the dribbles he attempted – more than anyone on the team – and was fouled two times by Port Vale defenders.
The winger didn’t just show good qualities technically, but he was outstanding physically too. Embleton won 87.5% of the duels he contested, meaning he lost just one.
On top of that, the wide man also completed 88% of his passes in what was an assured display. A goal would have capped off his night beautifully and it was unfortunate that he didn’t find the net.
On another day, he could easily have had a couple.