Coach highlights U21s' spirit after defeat at Norwich.
Kevin Ball felt the scoreline wasn't a true reflection of his side's overall performance as the development squad suffered a 3-0 defeat at Norwich on Monday evening.
Sunderland, who host leaders Fulham next, found themselves 2-0 down inside 15 minutes before the Canaries added a third goal in second-half stoppage time.
Jordan Laidler saw a penalty saved late in the first half for the visitors, who suffered only their fourth league defeat of the season.
“If you look at the scoreline you'd think we'd had a hammering, but that wasn't the case,” Ball said after the game at Carrow Road.
Credit to the players and I will say this about them – they possess a real stubborn mentality
- Kevin Ball
“We've got players out on loan and some injuries, so we changed the system to go three at the back which the players and I were happy with.
“We knew Norwich had pace out wide and had plans in place to deal with that. We said to not invite problems early doors, and then within 15 seconds we did just that.
“Everything we spoke about we didn't do and the ball ended up in the back of our net.
“For the second goal, we told the players to be aware of communication and passing players on, but we didn't do that as we should and subsequently conceded again.”
Faced with a significant challenge following the two early goals, Ball was pleased with how his young side steadied the ship and grew into the game.
Laidler saw a spot-kick saved by Carlo Nash in the closing stages of the first period and also came close after the break as the Black Cats pushed on in the second half.
Meanwhile Sunderland keeper Joel Dixon pulled off some good saves and was singled out for praise by his coach, who described his display as "excellent".
“At 2-0 after 15 minutes you're thinking it could be a long night, but credit to the players and I will say this about them – they possess a real stubborn mentality,” Ball added.
“They might do things wrong sometimes and things might go against them, but they don't go under.
Some of the football was exquisite in the second half but we just needed a little more in front of their goal
- Ball on display at Norwich
“For the rest of the first half we played very well and created chances.
“Some great forward play culminated in the penalty, which was a great opportunity – if that had gone in for 2-1 at half time it would have been a different game in the second half.
“I backed Jordan to score it but Carlo Nash made a great save.
“I rattled their cages a little at half time – I demanded more from them and told them to believe in themselves.
“Some of the football was exquisite in the second half but we just needed a little more in front of their goal. We were looking for that edge to finish our chances off but unfortunately it didn't come, and after unfortunate individual decisions the ball's ended up in our net in the last minute."
Ball added: “It was a frustrating one for myself and the players. Yes, we're disappointed with the goals we conceded, but some of the play was brilliant.
“We've got players out on loan and other teams are bringing players back in to play against us – Norwich had some overage players in their side which we take as a compliment.
“I must give Norwich credit - they possess tremendous pace up front which is always difficult to defend against.”