Kevin Ball

Ball previews league opener

by Stuart Vose

Coach looks ahead to Saints trip.

Kevin Ball is relishing the start of the new Barclays Premier Under-21 League as his side prepare to kick off the new season at Southampton on Monday.

Sunderland have been drawn in group two of the new national competition alongside Aston Villa, Manchester United, Newcastle, Stoke, Tottenham and the Saints.

And Ball wants his players to learn from the experience of playing against teams they wouldn’t have faced under the previous reserve-team league structure.

“Southampton like to play football,” said Ball. “They’re a team we wouldn’t have played against in the past so I’m quite looking forward to our visit and seeing what their facilities are like comparable to ours.

“They have an excellent Academy and I’m looking forward to seeing how they do things. Hopefully our lads will learn something.”

Sunderland will be without a number of players for the trip to the South Coast after Jordan Watson, Liam Marrs and James Armstrong picked up injuries during the pre-season schedule.

Ball added: “We’ve been very unfortunate with Jordan Watson because he sustained a knee injury in the game against Histon. He’s been doing smashing in pre-season and he’s going to be out probably until March. We need to be really supportive of him.

“Liam Marrs has done his ankle - he did that a few years back too so maybe he doesn’t like my hard pre-season!

“James Armstrong has picked up some slight muscle strains so we’re doing something slightly different with him to make sure he’s fit, but probably not in time for Southampton on Monday.”