City 2 Sunderland 3

IT FELT like being teased with a glimpse of Bully's special prize.

All that was missing was Jim Bowen on the pre-match announcements to say "this is what you could have won".

A Valley Parade date with Sunderland was the sort of glittering award on offer had City won the play-off final.

Instead, their first return to home soil since that Wembley heartache was a strictly pre-season affair. The most glamorous opposition so far but still a friendly.

The chance of rubbing shoulders with such illustrious company restricted to a Saturday in mid-July. Like that speed boat that Jim would always insist on dangling in front of the unlucky losers from the West Midlands.

Still, it was an entertaining and useful exercise as the former Premier League opponents demonstrated what City could expect if and when they can make the jump.

Sunderland, certainly in the first half, played with a pace and power that the hosts struggled to contain.

The corresponding weekend last year saw a chastening 4-1 defeat at Burnley's hands. Stuart McCall said this week how much they had taken out of that.

So he will feel that more valuable lessons have been taken on board after Simon Grayson's side illustrated why they are tipped to push strongly for an immediate return to the top flight.

They may have lost a dozen players since relegation, including the jewel in the goalkeeping crown Jordan Pickford, but there is still a depth of talent which City found tough to resist.

The significant jump in class of opposition was made abundantly clear inside the first eight minutes as Sunderland raced into a two-goal lead.

But it does help when you've got players with an £8million price tag in the line-up. Last year it was Andre Gray blasting holes in the Bantams. This time Jeremain Lens did the early damage.

Soft defending made his job easier for the first as he was gifted far too much room to cross and pick out Joshua Maja to score in the bottom corner.

But the Dutchman's solo effort for the second was pure class, holding off Nat Knight-Percival's challenge before lofting the ball over keeper Rouven Sattelmaier like a sweet nine iron at Royal Birkdale.

At that stage it threatened to be a long afternoon. However much you dismiss pre-season scorelines as irrelevant, nobody wants a trouncing on home turf.

Friendlies are fertile ground for the rumour mongers and fans in the main stand spent most of the opening half craning their necks to have a glimpse at Edin Rahic's interesting companion in the chairman's box.

The presence of former England manager – and current free agent – Steve McClaren busily taking notes got the Valley Parade tongues wagging.

Within minutes, he had been unofficially elevated to manager-in-waiting or the club's director of football!

The truth was far less fanciful. McClaren was at the game as a guest of Sunderland and was genning up on their team ahead of Sky TV duty for the Championship opener against his old club Derby.

Still, it added to the suggestion that things were not all that they seem on the surface.

Certainly the Gordon Greer episode has baffled many. A deal that seemed to be 99 per cent done – the terms had been agreed – then disappeared into thin air to leave all sides scratching their heads.

Whatever the reasoning, the manner in which City were opened up for Sunderland's early one-two hardly strengthened the case to reject such an established central defender.

They then conceded a third goal on the stroke of half-time as Didier N'Dong's shot proved too hot for Sattelmaier and Billy Jones tapped in the rebound.

Shay McCartan had City's best response but home attacks had been limited. With Alex Jones rested due to a tight groin, to go with Charlie Wyke's ongoing absence, Dominic Poleon hardly got a sniff against the imposing Lamine Kone.

Yet City came back out with a determination to 'win' the second half at least.

For the first ten minutes, they were penned in once more – but then the tide began to turn. City saw more of the ball and used it more effectively, Jake Reeves again catching the eye in possession and Alex Gilliead offering some encouraging moments on the right flank.

McCartan created their penalty out of nothing with a quick acceleration that brought a clumsy response from a combination of N'Dong and Donald Love.

Tony McMahon sent trialist keeper Robbin Ruiter the wrong way and the Germanic celebration music – so beloved of the chairman, if not by so many others – belted out once more across Valley Parade.

Ruiter made a superb save to deny Paul Taylor, using right arm and some of his face to keep out the substitute's goal-bound attempt.

But City still had the final say when Gilliead's cross was swept in at the near post by Jordan Gibson, who promptly became the first trialist to ever kiss the club badge as he wheeled off in delight.

City: Sattelmaier, McMahon, Vincelot, Knight-Percival, Chicksen, Gilliead, Devine (Pybus 74), Reeves, Law (Taylor 74), McCartan (J Gibson 74), Poleon (Patrick 74). Subs (not used): Kilgallon, Barr, Doyle.

Sunderland: Ruiter, Love (Matthews 82), Jones, Browning (O'Shea 79), Kone (Djilobodji 82), Cattermole, Lens (Honeyman 66), N'Dong, Vaughan, Khazri (D Gibson 79), Maja (Asoro 49). Subs (not used): Embleton, Stryjek.