A strong Sunderland side won 2-0 at Mariners Park as South Shields got their pre-season preparations underway with a positive performance on Thursday.

The Black Cats fielded different XIs in both halves, with manager Jack Ross able to call upon the bulk of the squad which reached the League One play-off final last season.

But Shields were far from disgraced in front of a crowd just shy of 3,300 and were left to reflect on plenty of positives heading into Saturday’s friendly with Cleethorpes Town.

Sunderland undoubtedly started the stronger of the two teams, with captain George Honeyman and team-mate Lynden Gooch causing a number of problems.

Some early pressure paid off when Sunderland won the ball in a dangerous area and Benji Kimpioka squared it for Ethan Robson, who picked out the top corner to open the scoring at the factory end.

Shields almost immediately sparked into action as Josh Gillies found some space on the right flank and played in a dangerous low cross which the hosts were just unable to convert.

Liam Connell certainly had to be on his toes at the other end, though, and did superbly to make a double save from Kimpioka and Charlie Wyke when the Black Cats looked certain to double their lead.

The Mariners grew into the first half and were unfortunate not to equalise just before the half-hour mark as Gary Brown’s header from a Gillies corner was cleared off the line before the rebound from Dillon Morse went agonisingly into the side netting.

Another chance arrived for Shields soon after when they claimed possession high up the pitch and David Foley got in on the left of the box, but new Sunderland goalkeeper Lee Burge beat away his effort.

Burge was in the action again on the stroke of half-time as Lee Mason dispossessed him, but the goalkeeper recovered well to stall Mason and prevent him squaring to a team-mate.

Sunderland introduced the likes of Grant Leadbitter, Chris Maguire and Will Grigg at the break and looked strong throughout the second half.

They should have gone two up just three minutes after the restart, but Elliot Embleton fired wide from close range after getting on the end of a cross from the right.

Another opportunity went begging when Luke O’Nien got in behind on the right of the box and slid in a low ball which Grigg sent wide.

The second Black Cats goal did arrive on 54 minutes when Duncan Watmore danced his way through before his shot was blocked and diverted into the path of O’Nien, who pushed it into the corner of the net.

Connell did well to keep out a 20-yard effort from Maguire and later made an even more impressive stop as he tipped a rasping drive from Watmore onto the bar, before Brown brilliantly blocked the rebound from O’Nien.

Adam Thurston made a bright first appearance for Shields and he was joined on the pitch after the hour mark by fellow new boys Robinson Wokoma and Millenic Alli, who also made a positive first impression.

Leadbitter almost made it 3-0 when his effort from distance crashed against the crossbar, while Grigg fired wide from an O’Nien cross after decent build-up play from the visitors.

Alli offered a glimpse into his credentials towards the end when he showed his skills before shooting from 30 yards, with goalkeeper Anthony Patterson grasping the ball at the second attempt.

It was a terrific workout for the Mariners in front of a large crowd.

SOUTH SHIELDS: Connell, Baxter (c), Adams (Charlton 73), Brown (Wokoma 63), Morse, Turnbull (Daly 63), Thurston (Guy 73), Lowe (Thompson 69), Foley (Alli 63), Mason (Trialist 63), Gillies (Wright 69). Sub not used: Steavens.

SUNDERLAND FIRST HALF: Burge, McLaughlin, Hackett, Loovens, Bainbridge, Robson, Kimpioka, McGeouch, Honeyman, Gooch, Wyke.

SUNDERLAND SECOND HALF: Patterson, Flanagan, Baldwin, Bainbridge (Hunter 63), O’Nien, Hume, Leadbitter, Embleton, Maguire, Watmore, Grigg. Subs not used: Sammut, Diamond, Abdelkader.

Attendance: 3,261.

WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.

A sell-out crowd of more than 3,000 will see South Shields and Sunderland AFC kick-off their pre-season programme on Thursday.

There will be no further ticket sales and no cash turnstiles will be in operation.

Supporters are advised that the turnstiles will open at 5.30pm and all supporters will be able to enter Mariners Park through turnstiles one, two, three or four.

The club also wishes to make supporters aware that the Barbour Lounge and balcony have been reserved for Sunderland AFC officials and club guests for this game as part of the fixture agreement, although the Barbour Lounge bar will remain open for all supporters.

Supporters are encouraged to use the marquee and the clubhouse bar, and are also advised that due to FA regulations, no alcohol can be consumed outside from 7pm onwards.

Please arrive as early as possible as large queues are anticipated.

Meanwhile, a Matchday Play Park will be held on the 3G pitch between 5.30pm and 7pm. All children with a valid match ticket will be able to take part.

Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to welcoming you on Thursday.

The Evo-Stik Premier Division is celebrating a new two-year sponsorship deal with leading online gambling company BetVictor, starting from the 2019-20 season.

The National League System’s ‘big three’ feeder leagues will also carry the BetVictor name in what is the first time a single brand will take on the title sponsorship of every Step 3 and 4 competition.

The sponsorship will bring a “remarkable level of new investment into each competition”, according to the league, which highlights BetVictor’s commitment to supporting the game and strengthening its digital presence through unique collaborations and campaigns.

Each league’s website has been refreshed, with new content added, with BetVictor having a strong focus on digital and social media.

The new BetVictor NPL website can be found at http://www.betvictornorthernpremier.co.uk/

In a joint statement, Isthmian Football League Chairman Nick Robinson, Northern Premier League Chairman Mark Harris and Southern League Chairman Terry Barratt said: “We are delighted to be working with BetVictor, such a high-profile sponsor.

“It is a major coup for the leagues at the Steps 3 and 4 of the National Leagues System.

“By working collectively, we become a much more attractive commercial and media proposition.

“We are all striving to professionalise our competitions and this sponsorship takes things to a new level.”

BetVictor’s Director of Brand and Creative, Matt Parkes, said: “We’re very excited about this partnership and we’re confident it will be a successful one for all three leagues and for BetVictor.

“The growing popularity of the leagues among the football community in the UK gives us the opportunity to amplify our brand’s digital presence and engagement, and to get closer to the leagues’ football fans.”

The players’ shirt sleeves at the 228 clubs part of all three leagues will also carry the BetVictor logo.