Craig Liddle

U18s face play-off crunch

by Ashley Houghton

Saturday's game to settle league battle.

Sunderland's U18s host Liverpool on Saturday knowing only a win will see them through to the play-off stage of the Barclays U18 Premier League.

The young Black Cats need to beat the Reds to set up a play-off tie with the winner of group two to decide who will progress to the semi-finals.

And Liddle says the players deserve the opportunity to reach the competition’s final four after an impressive run of form since March which has seen them lose only once in six matches.

“The second-half of the season they’ve done very well; we’ve predominantly been a young side, the youngsters have come in and they’ve done a good job,” Liddle said.

“How they handle the last game and the pressure will be interesting to see.

It’ll be a tough test, as always at this level, but if we play to the level that we’re capable of we can get something from the game

- Craig Liddle

“The staff aren’t putting any extra pressure on them because, as we always say, it’s about the development of the players.

“But we can’t hide what’s in their minds and they’ll be looking at a potential play-off place and winning their league.”

Liddle’s side lost their first league game in six as Tottenham ran out 6-3 winners at the Academy of Light last weekend.

And, though Liddle was bitterly disappointed with his side’s defending, he told that the young Black Cats have a chance to put things right against Liverpool.

“Last week didn’t go the way we wanted or the way we hoped it would go – so the lads get the chance to rectify that on Saturday in a one-off game,” he added.

“It’s basically a cup final for them so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle that side of things as well.

“The six goals we conceded there were some comical errors so we were a little bit disappointed with it

“In the lads’ defence, we thought we needed to win the game, so at 3-2 at half-time we gambled and we piled people forward.

“Obviously we got hit on the break a few times so it was a little bit unfortunate but I’m sure they’ll learn from it and come back stronger.”

Liddle’s side won three consecutive away games after they were heavily beaten 4-1 at Liverpool in February.

And, Liddle expects another tough game against the Reds, who are now out of the running for a qualification place after losing 4-0 at Stoke City on Wednesday evening.

“It’ll be a different type of game, because down there we were both predominantly under-16 and under-17, so both teams will be a little bit stronger in terms of the age bracket.

“They’re beaten FA Youth Cup semi-finalists so they’ve had a really good season.

"It’ll be a tough test, as always at this level, but if we play to the level that we’re capable of we can get something from the game."