SUNDERLAND coach Kevin Ball reckons Kader Mangane’s fitness levels will have significantly improved after his run-out with the club’s Under 21s on Monday.
The Senegalese international was included as an over-age player in the game at the Eppleton Colliery Welfare Ground, playing the full 90 minutes of the 2-2 draw against Everton U21s.
And Ball believes the 29-year-old will feel the positive effects from a game which was played at a high tempo from start to finish.
He told the Echo: “Any of the players who have dropped down to play at this level have always come up to me afterwards and said they’ve been a bit surprised by how quick the game is and how decent the standard of play is too.
“I spoke to a former Sunderland player, Dickson Etuhu, at Blackburn the other week and he was making the same point, which was that he didn’t realise how pacey and how demanding the U21 games would be.
“I think when they come back that it’s going to be simple, and it’s not, and it’s a bit of an eye-opener
“I found that quite interesting that Dickson was on about the pace and the quality being decent and I think Kader might well have felt the same way by the end of it.
“It was just the one game, but I think it will have really helped his fitness levels.
“He hasn’t played for a little while and it was a great opportunity to get what I call ‘big match practice’ under his belt.
“You can train all you want, take part in practice matches and that but there’s nothing like a genuine game to really help lift you up to a higher level and I think Kader got that.
Mangane arrived on Wearside in the January transfer window from Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal in a deal which keeps him on loan at Sunderland until the end of the season.
But his fitness levels were far from ideal after months spent in the less demanding Arab league and the Black Cats’ coaching staff have been working since his arrival to get his fitness up to the standards necessary to play Premier League football.
Martin O’Neill has included the African on the bench four times – giving the defender a vote of confidence in his progress so far.
But the Sunderland manager is likely to feel far more comfortable about involving Mangane in a match situation now that he has at least got a game of competitive English football under his belt.