Stockdale pleased with progress

by Oscar Chamberlain

Coach reflects on U21s' work so far.

Robbie Stockdale highlighted the importance of the upcoming international break, during which the Academy will play three mid-season friendlies.

The U21s face Celtic on Friday, followed by a further friendly against Middlesbrough, with the U18s also taking on Hull City.

And Stockdale states that the development squad will use the friendlies to further their progression, ahead of a return to competitive action against Manchester United on September 15.

“These games are to improve us and we are not treating them as a friendlies – our preparation has been the same.

“We have three games in quick succession and some of the players will have to play in all of them, but if they have a career in professional football this is something they will have to do.

“I don’t think it will hurt and it will be good to see how they cope with it, so my job will be to manage them and make sure they go into them the best they can be.”

The young Black Cats started the season with a 91st-minute defeat to Liverpool before a hard-fought 1-1 draw away to Manchester City, but the coach is keen to see his players push on.

“We have had two very tight games,” said Stockdale. “Both of them could have gone either way but that is the fine lines of the competition we are in in.

“We’re playing against some of the top-drawer teams who spend an awful lot of money on getting some of the top youth talent, not just in Europe but the world.

“On that front it is great that we are competing against these teams but we don’t just want to compete, we want to do well and perform.”

He continued: “The biggest positive, which I knew about the group anyway but it has been highlighted, is the togetherness and the standards they have set in matches and in training.

“It is very rare that they fall below those standards in terms of work rate and attitude - anyone can be forgiven for having an off-day technically or tactically but their work ethic has been pleasing.

“During the Liverpool and Manchester City games the effort was there but moving forward I want us to be better with the ball and work harder to retain possession.”