KEVIN Ball says Sunderland’s quartet of first-teamers will reap the benefits from an outing for the Under-21s.
Phil Bardsley, Kader Mangane, David Vaughan and Keiren Westwood all completed the full 90 minutes of the U21s’ 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough at a bitterly-cold Stadium of Light last night.
It was a second outing within a fortnight for Mangane, while Vaughan and Bardsley got the chance to stake their claim for Sunday’s crunch Premier League encounter against Norwich after being restricted to substitutes roles at QPR last weekend.
Ball told the Echo: “When you’re not playing in the first-team, you can do all the training you want, but it’s a totally different concept playing a game.
“Whether that’s at Under-21 level or wherever, the pitch dimensions makes everything totally different.
“It does them the world of good and when the opportunity arises, I encourage the manager to play them.
“I also think it’s good for the younger players because they enjoy playing alongside them. “
Bardsley and Mangane both received treatment during the second half, although they managed to continue until the final whistle.
“Kader got a whack on the chops, but it’ll take a big whack to stop him!” joked Ball.
The draw extended Sunderland’s search for a win in 2013 after being pegged back by the Teessiders.
Ball added: “I thought in the first half, we had a few opportunities where we should have been at least looking to hit the target.
“I wasn’t particularly happy at half-time. Not all of it, but some of it, I felt we could do better.
“We started the second half a lot better, but then lost our way a bit.
“We got the goal just after half-time and you hoped we would kick on and win the game. But they scored.
“We’ve looked at the DVD and it does look offside.
“The linesman didn’t give the decision and my gripe was, we should be tracking back and run back with the man. You’ve got to get on with it if the flag doesn’t go up.”