Sunderland U23s boss Elliott Dickman is convinced that some of his players can make the first team grade on Wearside, but insists they still have plenty of development to do.
The young Black Cats are gearing up for their showpiece final next Wednesday, when Porto visit the Stadium of Light for the conclusion of the Premier League International Cup.
Dickman’s side are set to be roared on by a following of over 12,000 fans, with tickets free from the club.
Sunderland fans will be keeping a keen eye for glimmers of hope, with David Moyes likely to need to use a number of young players in a demanding Championship schedule next season.
Dickman knows there will be opportunities but trusts Moyes to get the timing right.
He said: “There are some lads who could play [first team] but they’ve still got a lot of development to do. The summer will be big for one or two of these players, hopefully they’ll get an opportunity and it is up to them to grasp it like George Honeyman has, like Lynden at the beginning of the season, like Jordan.
“The group have had a really good season from their perspective and they’re going to earn a holiday in the summer but when they come back for pre-season, the manager knows the players inside out, he’s watched a hell of a lot of them and he’s better equipped than I am to say if somebody is ready for the first team, but there could be an opportunity for some of them and we have to deal with that.
“Let’s not underestimate how tough the Premier League is and it’s great the lads are getting an opportunity to train with the first team, that’s a massive plus. If they get the chance to be involved in the first team next season of course it’s happy days but we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Dickman may well be without the likes of George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch, likely to be on first team duty at the Emirates Stadium the night before the final.
The U23 boss has no mixed feelings about that, thrilled to see players he has worked with making the breakthrough, and he was particularly pleased to see Honeyman make his mark in recent weeks. While his coaching instincts invariably kick in watching his charges in any game, he was quick to pay tribute to all who have helped the current crop break through.
He said: “They could come back but I’d rather those lads were with the first team. If they’re needed in the first team that for me is the priority in their development pathway. We’ve got a group of lads here who have played most of the season and will be keen to impress. From a selfish point of view it would be fantastic to have those senior players with us but at the end of the day the priority’s the first team. If those lads are with the first team, so be it.
“I’ve known George since he was 10 I think so to see him on his journey is remarkable. I was actually really, really pleased with how he did when he came on against Bournemouth, I thought he had a really good game for that short space of time he was on the pitch. He used the ball well and he was sensible with his play.
“George wears his heart on his sleeve and he’s a very emotional young lad so for him to play with such a mature head, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, that’s very impressive.’ To top it off by starting against Hull was fantastic.
“I’m not going to lie, sitting watching him I think, ‘Just pass it simple,’ or whatever it may be. You’ll always have that in you.
“But there are a hell of a lot of people who have helped someone like George and Jordan Pickford. There are a hell of a lot of part-time and full-time staff, coaches, sports science, physios, teachers - loads of people who have helped these lads get to where they are. At the minute I’m sitting in the under-23 chair so it’s me who gets asked the question but ultimately it’s George Honeyman and Pickford who have done it themselves.”
After such a difficult season, calls for an influx of youth are understandable, but Dickman insists Moyes’ approach has been the right one.
He said: “If you throw in too many it can have an adverse effect on the players, sitting watching on the sidelines it is an easy thing to say, throw them in, but we’re still fighting for three points in the Premier League and the first team have got some tough games. The fact that some have travelled, some have been on the bench, that’s a positive step and has happened for most of the year. They’ve been there, it is probably just the physical side that isn’t quite there for them. The manager is very experienced, when you’re in that pressure pot and that technical area, he’s got to do what he thinks is right.”