Robbie Stockdale says Sunderland's youngsters now know exactly what it will take to progress in the Checkatrade Trophy after a competitive encounter with Rochdale.
Sunderland picked up their first point of the group stages after the 1-1 draw at the Crown Oil Arena, with Rochdale securing an extra point after winning the penalty shoot-out 4-2.
Keith Hill's side are bottom of League One but they had the lion's share of possession and created the better openings against Sunderland's Under-23 side - which also featured Jan Kirchhoff and Jason Denayer.
Sunderland are third in the Checkatrade Trophy Northern Group F with one point, a point behind Rochdale and two behind leaders Notts County.
Hartlepool United are bottom after the first round of games, with each side playing three matches.
First team coach Stockdale says there were plenty of positives but says the players now know the standard of the competition is tough.
"Can we play better? Yes. Do the players now have an understanding of what it will take in the next two games? Definitely," Stockdale told the Echo.
"The competitiveness was great, I was speaking to the other coaches before the game and the environment felt like a proper game.
"It had a bit of bite and there were tackles flying in, for our players it ticked the boxes massively."
Sunderland took the lead 51 minutes in through 17-year-old midfielder Elliot Embleton's brilliant effort from the edge of the area.
The Academy product played a one-two with Joshua Maja before curling the ball past Josh Lillis in the Rochdale goal.
Ian Henderson equalised for the hosts seven minutes later.
"It was a great goal from Elliot. The build-up play to the edge of their box was good," added Stockdale.
"At half-time we spoke about that final bit of quality and the one time we produced it we scored."
Sunderland had goalkeeper Max Stryjek to thank for keeping them in the game at times, with the club's number three keeper making several important saves.
"Max did well, he did what was required," added Stockdale.
"It is difficult for a goalkeeper when we aren't the biggest of teams.
"When he is kicking the ball a bit longer, there is a group of giants waiting to head it back to our goal.
"But he did well and overall it was a positive night."