Youngsters can benefit from play-off clash, says Dickman.
Sunderland’s Academy head of coaching, Elliott Dickman, says Sunday’s U18 play-off game against Aston Villa will be another valuable learning experience for the club’s young players.
The young Black Cats teed up a one-off clash with the Villans at the Academy of Light after beating Liverpool 2-0 to make sure of their place atop Group 1 of the Barclays U18 Premier League.
Villa, meanwhile, finished top of the pile in Group 2 and the Sunderland camp are expecting a strong side to make the journey north.
“It’s another opportunity for the boys to learn and develop,” Dickman said. “They’ll be aware of how important the game is.
“We’ve been fortunate to come out on top in both of our games against Villa this season.
“I’d imagine they will be as strong as they can be and might call some players down from the NextGen [U21] squad.”
Sunderland have blooded many of their first-year players throughout the campaign with several now breaking through into the U21 squad.
And the coaching staff have been pleased with the progress made by the youngsters over the last few weeks and months.
“We’re delighted,” Dickman said. “The first-years didn’t play too much at the start of the season, but they’ve been thrown in a little bit and we’ve been really pleased with their development.
“James Stinson’s come in, Tom Beadling is back from injury and has been a massive addition to the group, plus the likes of Martin Smith, Lynden Gooch, Steve McCarthy, Peter Burke and Jas Sukar have done well.
“The younger players have all had a taste of playing at U18 level and hopefully that experience will stand them in good stead next season.”
The prize awaiting Sunday’s victors is a trip to Elite Group title holders Fulham next week, with the winners of that game qualifying for the play-off final.
But Dickman says no-one will be looking anywhere beyond the task immediately ahead of them this weekend.
“It’s one game at a time – everything needs to be looked at and channelled for Sunday’s game.
“If we get through then we’ll look at Fulham in due course and get ourselves prepared.”