Midfielder feels youngsters unlucky to end season with defeat.
Sunderland U18 midfielder Martin Smith spoke of his mixed emotions after the youngsters narrowly lost out to Fulham in the semi-finals of the Barclays U18 Premier League last week.
The lads from Wearside found themselves 4-0 down but battled back to 4-3 to engineer a thrilling finale, having a goal disallowed along the way.
Smith, who scored four goals in his 20 appearances for the U18s in 2012-13, says to go so close to defeating the Cottagers was painful, though he also added that the young Black Cats should take great heart from their battling performance in West London.
“After the game it was a mixed feeling of being devastated as a team but pleased at the same time with the second-half performance,” Smith said.
“I think going to extra time the previous Sunday [against Aston Villa in the semi-finals] played a big part in that but we gave a good account of ourselves and we went right to the death.
“We pushed for a result but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be – we have to credit all the lads, I thought we were unlucky not to come out with a better result than the one we got.”
Smith, who has played four league games for the development squad since the turn of the year, was also full of praise for the morale within the group.
And the goal-scoring midfielder labelled the under-18 side as the “tightest-knit” environment he has been involved with, adding:
“We’d do anything for each other and I think, for me, that’s the reason we won our league and that’s why we got to where we got to at the end of the season.
“It showed against Fulham when we were down by four goals - to bring it back showed we were together and we fought back together.”
The future looks bright for Smith, who is only one of five youths to play 20 or more league games this season, and he hopes to build on a promising start to his first year as a scholar with the club he has been with since he was seven years old.
“I think next year is massive on a personal note for me,” Smith added.
“The off season will be big for me because I need to be at my fittest when I come in and I need to be firing on all cylinders.
“Next season I want to push and push – I want to be playing week in-week out for the 21s.
“If I work as hard as I can and make sure my game is at the top of my standard, then we’ll see from there what happens – hopefully things will pay off.”