MARTIN O’NEILL watched Ryan Noble continue to push his case for first team inclusion after the rookie striker notched his third hat-trick in four games.
The new Sunderland boss was at Eppleton CW with coaches Steve Walford and Seamus McDonagh last night to see Noble hit four in the reserves’ 6-3 victory over league leaders Manchester United.
It took the 20-year-old’s tally to 11 from the last four games and gave further encouragement to those calling for the Millfield-born hitman to be handed his first Premier League start in Sunday’s crunch clash with Blackburn Rovers.
Noble has only made two brief substitute appearances for the Black Cats this season despite Sunderland’s problems in front of goal.
While reserve team coach Keith Bertschin stressed there is a significant gulf between reserve team football and the Premier League, he admits Noble’s scoring feats are inevitably earning attention.
Bertschin told the Echo: “People must understand there is a huge difference between Premiership football and reserve team. But in Ryan’s defence, he can only play in front of the people that are put against him.
“At least he is getting himself noticed. He has to work at his game, there are areas that he wants to improve on and he’s absolutely right to be wanting to improve on certain parts. But as far as the goalscoring goes, he is scoring goals.
“Whether it’s now, 10 or 20 years ago, young strikers cannot help be noticed if they keep putting the ball in the back of the net.”
He added: “It’s great credit to the boy really after scoring three hat-tricks in four games after coming back from his back injury. He looks to be energetic, enthusiastic and there’s nothing better for him than scoring goals.
“Even when he tried to put one across, it showed he’s come a long way because he was looking for someone else in a better position. When the chances came to him, he took them very well. We all know goals definitely change games and he was part of the reason why the game changed.”
Sunderland’s second string impressed in front of O’Neill after recovering from going a goal down.
David Meyler and Craig Gardner had the Black Cats ahead by half-time, before Noble’s four second half goals ensured an emphatic victory.
“The first 15 minutes was a tad edgy because people were wanting to do so well,” added Bertschin. It took us a bit of time to settle down, but once they got into their flow, I think every one of them did very well.”