Carlton Fairweather

U18 coach previews season opener

by Ashley Houghton

Fairweather ready for Chelsea trip.

Sunderland U18 coach Carlton Fairweather says Saturday’s Barclays U18 Premier League opener at Chelsea is the perfect benchmark for the coming campaign.

Fairweather and Academy manager Ged McNamee watched on as the youngsters protected their unbeaten pre-season record with a 2-2 draw with Barnsley last weekend.

And Fairweather believes the trip to London will be a sign of how far the young Black Cats have come since they returned to the Academy of Light in July.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Fairweather said. “It’s a benchmark to see where we are in terms of development and fitness as well and that will give us a good gauge of what we still need to improve on and work on.

“Any Chelsea team that you would play against is going to be a difficult side anyway, purely because of the type of players that they can attract – it’s going to be a challenge for the lads, but one I think everyone is looking forward to.

“We haven’t got a massive squad but competition will be tight because the second-years are a good group of kids with the addition of the first-years who have some really good potential.”

On the whole Fairweather and the rest of the coaching staff have been delighted with the progress made during pre-season as Sunderland beat both Hibernian and Rangers’ U19 sides.

And Fairweather hopes the tests against older players in Scotland will have got the lads ready for their season opener.

“As a whole we’ve been very pleased with the way that the lads have worked, the way they’ve applied themselves and the way that the lads have developed,” he added.

“Obviously we had the games in Scotland which were very good tests for the lads because we played against older kids.

“The game against Barnsley was a different type of test because they were a very hard-working side.

“The fact we were 2-0 down and got back to draw the game was a credit to the lads and the way that they played.”

The U18s have retained the services of a number of players now in their second year, including Tom Robson and Martin Smith.

And, with the likes of Ethan Robson and Michael Ledger already carrying significant under-18 experience, Fairweather is confident that all of the squad are settled in and ready for the season opener.

“It will be difficult to pick a side for the Chelsea game and one or two might be disappointed,” he explained.

“The fact is that they’re going to be involved and it’s important as well because it’s a team game and not just one or two individuals.

“The likes of Ethan Robson and Michael Ledger, who have been involved for quite a while with the 18s, for them that’s going to help bridge the gap.

“Everyone as a whole has settled in really well and we’re looking forward to that challenge against Chelsea.”