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Liddle's Southampton preview

Under-18s coach ready for Academy clash.

Craig Liddle says his side couldn’t have asked for a tougher start to their Barclays Premier Academy League campaign than the opening fixture against Southampton.

Sunderland face the Saints at the Academy of Light on Saturday following a solid pre-season schedule which included games against Feyenoord and the Chilean national team.

Tottenham forward Gareth Bale and Arsenal wingers Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are the stand-out players who have graduated from Southampton’s Academy system in recent years, and Liddle believes facing a club with such a pedigree will provide the perfect test for his players.

“We expect Southampton to be a decent side and they’re as a tougher opener as we could have asked for,” said Liddle. “Academies for me are about producing players and over the years Southampton have produced some very, very good ones.

“Our lads will be up for it, we’ll mentally and physically prepare them and then we’ll see where we are on Saturday. Southampton will give us a good indicator of how far we’ve come in pre-season.”

The young Black Cats enjoyed an unbeaten start to their pre-season schedule before being put through their paces at a training camp in Holland, with Liddle throwing down the gauntlet to his players ahead of the new campaign.

Liddle added: “The eleven that will start the game, injuries permitting, will be the eleven that deserves to be on the pitch based on what they’ve produced during pre-season.

“Unfortunately Nathan Thomas is going to be possibly out for six months because he’s having an operation on his leg. George Honeyman has picked up a niggle or two as others have.

“So we’ve had to nurse a few people through and I think we’ll not know until Friday what side we’ll be able to put out against Southampton.

“Although we do look to give everyone equal amount of time on the pitch, we have got to be careful in that respect, but the team that starts Saturday will be the team that has performed over the pre-season.”