Sunderland under-23s are set to host Middlesbrough in the Wear-Tees derby on Monday night at Eppleton CW, kick-off 7pm.
Elliot Dickman’s side are in search of their first win in the Premier League 2 this campaign and will be boosted by the inclusion of first team faces Laurens De Bock and Joel Lynch as they look to prove their fitness to Jack Ross.
The young Black Cats lost 2-1 to Aston Villa before the international break, but there were plenty of positives to take from the performance and Dickman is hopeful his team can build on that.
“The lads can take a lot of positives from the Villa game; we created a lot of chances, but we need to take more care in the final third and tidy things up with our final cross or shot,” he said.
“We’ve also got to make sure we are more solid and compact and prevent goals as a full team not just a back four.
“I want the players to be pleased with how they played, but also disappointed that ultimately, we lost the game.”
Boro come into the game in good form, picking up two wins and a draw from their opening four fixtures, leaving them three points off the top.
“We know their players and they know ours, it’s a local game and the rivalry adds a bit of pressure,” Dickman continued.
“We have to concentrate on what we’re doing and prepare properly for what will be a difficult game.
“There’s plenty of positivity among the group and the lads have trained well over the last couple of weeks so we’re ready for the game.”
However, Sunderland will be without Jack Diamond after the winger joined Vanarama National League side Harrogate Town on a youth loan.
“We always want what is best for the player, if it’s best for that individual to go and play some men’s football it’s a no brainer from a development point of view.
“Jack will get different challenges and different obstacles that he will have to overcome, and he will experience some very difficult games in the National League.
With Diamond out on loan, Dickman believes it is a good opportunity for new signing Cieran Dunne to impress.
“Cieran came down last season and did very well, he has taken to our training sessions like a duck to water and we have been very pleased with what he’s been doing.
“His first start was against Aston Villa and he did well to play the full 90 minutes considering he hasn’t played a great deal of football recently.
“He’s someone that will be given an opportunity to develop and improve and we’ll see where he’s at in a few months time.”
Sunderland fans can gain free entry to Monday’s Premier League 2 game at Eppleton CW on production of a valid 2019-20 season card.
Otherwise, admission is priced at £3 for adults and £1 for concessions.