Boston United and Sunderland played out a lively draw at the Jakemans Stadium this afternoon.
Scott Garner handed the Pilgrims an early lead before Danny Graham levelled things up after the interval.
Dennis Greene named a strong starting XI which included the return of on-trial Matt Gledhill in goal and a midfield pairing of Jay Dowie and Jake Hall.
Rene Steer returned at left back and trialist Karlton Watson took his place alongside Carl Piergianni in the heart of defence. This allowed Garner to again return to a forward role, where he was paired with Dayle Southwell.
Sunderland’s side included David Ferguson and Liam Agnew - both of whom had loan spells at the Jakemans Stadium last season - and Duncan Watmore, who has a history of tormenting the Pilgrims during his time with Altrincham.
Danny Graham, Sunderland’s £5m signing from Swansea, was named in attack, the most senior member of an otherwise youthful side.
Boston needed just three minutes to open the scoring as Garner rose to meet Rene Steer’s left-wing cross, heading powerfully beyond Peter Burke.
The Black Cats had a golden oportunity to level when Graham was put through on goal, but as the forward unleashed his strike Gledhill made himself big and smothered the effort.
The scorching first-half heat ensured the match began at a relatively slow pace, with chances few and far between.
Dayle Southwell almost added to United’s lead when he latched onto Garner’s through ball and skipped past Scott Harrison. However, his low strike flew across the face of goal.
Gledhill again frustrated Graham when the Sunderland man loomed down on goal again, this time the Pilgrims keeper used his legs to block.
Back came Boston, with Garner beating Burke to Jamie McGhee’s cross but heading over the bar before the Black Cats stopper pulled off a top diving stop to beat away Southwell’s strike.
There was more intent to the Sunderland side after the break and Agnew - who scored a 30-yard stunner at the Town End for United against Gloucester City last season - almost had another finish to savour.
His strike from distance beat the Boston keeper but rebounded back into play off the underside of the crossbar.
Nine minutes into the second half the Premier League side pulled level as Graham made it third time lucky.
Indecision in the United defence allowed the forward a free run onto Agnew’s through ball before he rounded Gledhill and stabbed the ball into the inviting net.
Piergianni had two opportunities to put the Pilgrims back in front in the space of a minute, but on both occasions he was thwarted by captain Agnew.
The first chance saw the Sunderland man react well when Piergianni looked set to nod into the empty net. And from the resultant corner, Agnew nodded Piergianni’s header off the goalline.
More drastic defending followed as substitute Sunderland keeper Max Stryjex did well to palm Conor Marshall’s side-footer round the post, before Harrison hacked David Falliaah’s close-range shot off the whitewash.
Boston trialist David Falliaah went on a mazy run from the halfway line which saw him skip through the Sunderland defence before screwing his effort wide of Stryjek’s post.
At the other end David Moberg Karlsson had a sight of goal, but a tinely block from Stefan Galinski ensured honours were even.
UNITED: Gledhill, Mills (Smythe 82), Steer, Dowie (Hollingsworth 75), Watson (Reynolds 64), Piergianni (Galinski 64), McGhee (Felix 60), Hall (Marshall 60), Garner (Sanders 82), Southwell (Falliaah 68), Barlow (Meadows 60); Subs (not used): Vince.
SUNDERLAND: Burke (Stryjek HT), Ledger, Ferguson (Robson HT), Agnew, McNamee, Harrison, Watmore, Smith (Moberg Karlsson HT), Graham (Beadling 69), Honeyman (Gooch 69), Lawson; Subs (not used): Cartwright.
Ref: John Brooks.