Kevin Ball and Robbie Stockdale

Ball lays down challenge

by Stuart Vose

U21s must keep pushing, says coach.

Kevin Ball has challenged his players to keep pushing on after the development squad rounded off their season last Friday.

The under-21s earned an excellent 2-2 draw at in-form Fulham thanks to a Ryan Noble goal and a stunning 40-yard late leveller from Spanish midfielder Alex Gorrin.

The result marked further progress following a 0-0 draw at Everton earlier in the week, leaving Ball pleased with his side's work rate.

To give more than 100% is impossible, but to give less than that is unforgivable

- Kevin Ball

But the coach's challenge to his young players is clear – to keep working and improving every day.

“We battled and that is pleasing,” Ball said. “That comes from all the players being prepared to give 100%.

“I was driving in the other day and thinking of an analogy – to give more than 100% is impossible, but to give less than that is unforgivable.

“The players have to make sure they're doing everything they can.

“I was listening to a player speak the other night and he was saying that it's all well and good doing it for one or two games, but can you do it for a year, five years, ten years?

“The players have to push themselves all the time. In the main, the majority of them have done that, but one or two have to realise they still need to carry on doing it.”

Sunderland headed into the final week of the season with two tough away trips on the schedule.

Ball felt a 0-0 outcome was a fair result as Everton were held at Southport, with goalkeeper Jordan Pickford pulling off several good saves.

“We worked tremendously hard in that game, as did Everton, and to be fair Jordan stood firm on two or three occasions," he said.

“If the game had gone either way would it have been unfair? I would say yes. A draw was a fair result.

“Taking into consideration the fact that we had a young team out, they adapted really well, the shape was good and everyone put in a shift.

“It was a really pleasing result.”

Ball's side then concluded their season in the capital at Craven Cottage against a Fulham side who had put together a useful sequence of results.

“The game was rearranged as Fulham couldn't raise a team earlier in the season,” Ball explained.

“To give him credit, Kit Symons – who is a really good mate of mine – promised to get it played at Craven Cottage and that was a really fabulous experience for the players.

“For the players to get an experience of playing at a big ground was great. It's different when there's 30,000 there, but it was still a great experience.”

Tom Beadling scored an unfortunate own goal to open the scoring and Jordan Pickford saved a penalty before Noble levelled just after the hour mark.

A second penalty – this time converted – looked to have settled the contest, but Fulham reckoned without Gorrin, who rocketed a shot in off the underside of the crossbar in front of his watching father, who had flown over from Tenerife for the game.

“Tom [Beadling] put in one of the most competent, assured displays I've seen from an under-17 player in a long time,” Ball explained.

“He made a great run to the near post but unfortunately headed it in. You've have complimented him on the finish if he was a forward.

“But what can you do? We looked at it and just said “Tommy, great finish!”

“From our point of view it was how he dealt with the own goal, and Tom didn't let the goal affect him at all which was really, really good.”

He continued: “Jordan did very well to save a penalty at 1-0 and Ryan got us level with a fantastic piece of play. He deserved it as he worked hard.

“We were in the game but gave away more of a silly penalty when Jordan dropped a cross, went chasing and fouled the opponent.

“I can understand why he chased the man because of course he wanted to rectify his mistake. The only problem was he gave away what I'd call a petulant penalty.

“Someone of his standard has got to eradicate those from his game. We're working with him to do that and if he can then he can take his goalkeeping to another level.

“Two-one at that stage was harsh on the lads because they had played really well.”

I don't think I've jumped off a bench screaming and hollering as much in a long time

- Ball on Gorrin goal

But Gorrin's late strike ensured the under-21s' season would end on a high note, with Ball rating the goal amongst the best he's ever seen.

“Alex broke through the middle of two players 40 yards from goal and unleashed a shot in off the underside of the bar.

“I don't think I've jumped off a bench screaming and hollering as much in a long time.

“It's not something I particularly do now – maybe I'm getting boring. I ended up in Kit's technical area and had to apologise to him.

“It was more so because the players worked really hard in the game and deserved something.

“Alex has worked hard too over the last couple of weeks since we had a good heart-to-heart about how I see his career developing.

“His dad was over to be there at the game and it was the culmination of all those things coming together.

“It was great to see him nonchalantly waving to his dad after he'd scored – a lovely moment in the game.

It was one of the best goals I've ever seen and I mean that. It was just unbelievable.”

Take a look at our run-down of results and match reports from every league game played by the U21s this season.