Liddle's West Ham preview

by Stuart Vose

U18 coach looking to tighten grip on top spot.

Sunderland U18 coach Craig Liddle has urged his young Black Cats to show they can handle the pressure of big games as his side travel to West Ham United this weekend.

Liddle’s side are currently top of Group One in the Barclays U18 Premier League and a win in East London would leave Sunderland in pole position ahead of two crunch games against Liverpool and Tottenham at the Academy of Light.

The former Darlington man told that it will be interesting for the staff to see how the youngsters deal with the tense nature of their upcoming games.

The players are getting valuable experience at an early age, they’ve not only held their own but they’ve done really, really well

- Craig Liddle

“We’re top of our group coming into the final three games and that’ll add a little bit of pressure for the lads because they’ll be looking at the league table,” Liddle said.

“It’ll be interesting to see how they handle that side of the game.

“We do [look ahead to the games against Liverpool and Tottenham] but obviously Saturday is a tough game for us down at West Ham, if we can get the three points down there it sets us up nicely for the last two games at home against Liverpool and Tottenham, who are the teams directly below us.”

And, though, Liddle’s side are keeping one eye on Spurs and the Reds, the young Black Cats understand the importance of a result against the Hammers if they are to remain top heading into the final two games.

They’ll take confidence from a narrow 2-1 win at the AoL back in February when a Liam Agnew double secured the points for the Wearsiders.

“It [2-1 win over West Ham] was a tight game, we ran out winners but it was pretty even for large periods of the game - I think overall we probably did just shade it.

“We’ll have to be at our best to go down there and get a result but I’m sure the lads are looking forward to it just as much as me.

“We realise that to win this league we’ll have to beat the best sides and the lads will be full of confidence after the win against Stoke last weekend so we go into it with great confidence and that’s a huge part of the game.”

Once again Liddle’s options are stretched with lots of his more experienced players likely to feature for Kevin Ball’s U21s on Monday.

Mikael Mandron is now working with the first team while the likes of Martin Smith, Tom McNamee and Ross Holland have all featured for Ball’s side.

“We have been quite young in recent weeks; it’s been good experience for the lads who are coming in next year,” Liddle added.

“We’ll be young but the lads have set really high standards and it’s important that they keep their standards high.

“They’re getting valuable experience at an early age, they’ve not only held their own but they’ve done really, really well and I think the results have reflected that.”