U21 coach says pair have kicked on.
Sunderland’s senior professional development coach, Kevin Ball, says he is delighted with the progress on-loan players Jordan Pickford and Billy Knott have made in their spells away from the club in 2012-13.
Pickford, who is the England U19 number one, spent two months with Alfreton Town whilst Knott has been with Woking since October.
Both have excelled as Alfreton look set to finish in their highest position in the club’s history whilst Woking are set for their best finish in eight years.
And Ball has praised the progress they’ve both made as people as well as footballers.
“I think it proves the point that if they’re good enough then we do need to push them into the big wide world,” Ball said.
“He’s [Pickford] been at Alfreton and they were in relegation trouble when he went there and he’s obviously helped, along with the other players at the club, alleviate that problem.
“I think it’s matured him.
“Billy Knott’s come back again, he went to Woking and did smashing, he’s come back with a different maturity but I think it’s experiencing that big wide world.”
As a result of the likes of Knott and Pickford going out on loan, opportunities have arisen in Ball’s side for multiple under-18’s.
A number of schoolboys have also featured at U18 level, with one – Ethan Robson – even breaking into the U21 squad.
And Ball says the staff at the AoL have high hopes for the young midfielder.
“Ethan is a player that we have great hopes for in the future, he’s a big Sunderland fan whose desire to be a footballer is immense,” he said. “His attitude is always spot on.
“He still can’t beat me at head tennis, he’s tried his hardest, but he can’t – I won a chocolate egg off him last week saying ‘You’re the best, love Ethan’ on it,” he joked.
“What I like about him is that he likes a challenge and the more you challenge him, the more he’ll step up to the plate.
“We took the opportunity to bring him in to the 21’s and, though, he may struggle physically at the moment, and we accept that, what we say to Ethan is play against the big boys, work it out, work harder and before you know it you’ll find your level and you’ll want to stay with us at this level.
“I went on a course recently and someone from one of the bigger clubs with world-class international footballers said that the best way for the boys to progress is playing against bigger, better players and I fully believe that.
“When I was younger I preferred that, they played me up all the time and that obviously helped me, so that for me is a great idea.”