Pritchard screamer helps Sunderland past Preston1 January 2024
Sunderland strengthened their Championship promotion hopes by starting 2024 with a comprehensive 2-0 win over Preston at the Stadium of Light.
Alex Pritchard gave Michael Beale's men the lead in stunning fashion after 10 minutes with a swerving effort from 30 yards that left North End goalkeeper Freddie Woodman with no chance - his first goal since May.
Just before the break, Nazariy Rusyn doubled the lead after connecting with Jack Clarke's square ball after the Black Cats' star man had rampaged down the left-hand flank.
Sunderland climb up to sixth after taking seven points from the last nine on offer, while Preston have now lost four of their last five league games and stay down in 11th.
Both teams wanted a positive start to the year following dips in form and Beale and Ryan Lowe made three changes to their starting line-ups.
Sunderland re-introduced striker Rusyn to the side for the first time in more than a month while Pritchard replaced the injured Patrick Roberts.
Lowe, whose team lost at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Friday, brought in Ched Evans, Jordan Storey and Mads Frokjaer-Jensen in search of a change in fortune.
Aside from Ben Whiteman's effort that forced a save out of Anthony Patterson six minutes in, Preston's defence was busiest early on.
The danger signs were already there after just 90 seconds when Clarke curled an effort just wide of the upright following a decent move.
Midfielder Pierre Ekwah had also fired wide from just inside the area when Pritchard found the net.
The 30-year-old was afforded too much space deep in the Preston half. There was still plenty of work to do and he struck right-footed with power past Freddie Woodman from 25 yards.
It was the first time Pritchard had found the net since scoring at Preston on the final weekend of last season in May.
Clarke forced Woodman into a save to his left after another of his probing runs while Preston created a couple of half chances for Frokjaer-Jensen to fire over.
But, with just a minute remaining of the opening half, Sunderland got the second goal.
Clarke drove at his marker before rolling a pass into the path of Rusyn to apply the lovely finish low and beyond Woodman. His movement was perfect and much-needed for a team in desperate need of some strike power.
After the restart, Preston forced Patterson into a couple of saves from Liam Miller and Frokjaer-Jensen but Sunderland controlled the game and tempo without creating anything else themselves.
Sunderland's Michael Beale:
"The story of the game is a No 9 scores for Sunderland. He earned his goal and it has been difficult for him.
"His wife and children aren't here. That must be hard for him, with everything going on back home at this time of the year. He's been here six months and he's on to his third coach, I am delighted for him.
"You can transfer talent but someone has to be comfortable in an environment. We have to do a lot to help people settle and that goal will do him the world of good, to get a standing ovation too, what a way to start the year. Well done Naz."
Preston's Ryan Lowe:
"We can't give that much space and let a goal go in from 25 yards out for the first one. We have to get out to the ball.
"Then the second one before half-time…we spoke about Jack Clarke all week. We had to lock that out because he was the danger. He puts the ball across the box and it is 2-0 at half-time and it is game over.
"I am asking them for belief at half-time, be more dogged, be brave and at 2-0 we have kept them at bay - they are a good team.
"They scored one from outside the box and one from inside the box. We weren't clinical enough, smart enough, at the top end of the pitch. We conceded two goals that are avoidable."
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This news item was provided by the SkySports | News website - the original link is: https://www.skysports.com/football/sunderland-vs-preston-north-end/report/485012