Glenn Loovens hails '˜spectacular' Josh Maja and young defender after Sunderland debut
While the emergence of Sunderland's youngsters stole the show at Morecambe on Tuesday, equally important was the return of one of their more experienced heads.
Glenn Loovens completed 90 minutes at the Globe Arena in his first start since picking up an injury at Coventry in September - putting in a solid display as Sunderland registered a seventh clean sheet of the campaign.
But while the defender’s return was a positive, he was keen to praise two of those youngsters in Jack Ross’ squad.
On a day which saw the Black Cats dish out debuts aplenty, Loovens was left enthused by the performance of one of his defensive partners.
The Dutchman was flanked by Alim Ozturk and Jack Bainbridge in a back three - and it was the former Everton youngster that caught his eye.
Not that it was the first time Loovens had seen his ability up close.
“We actually had a behind closed doors game last week and he [Bainbridge] played next to me, so we got to know each other a little bit,” he revealed.
“He’s a good player and a proper defender who likes to defend.
“The young boys did well and I’m pleased for them all.”
At the other end, it was a more familiar face that left Loovens impressed.
Josh Maja’s injury time strike saw him hit double figures for the season and the defender knows only too well the ability possessed by the 19-year-old - given he has to face him in training on a daily basis.
“He’s spectacular,” said Loovens on the ten-goal striker.
“You have to wait once a week, we see it every day in training.
“I know exactly what he can do and he proved it again tonight.”
For youngsters such as Bainbridge, the tie at Morecambe was an ideal opportunity for them to experience the rigours and demands of senior football.
But for Loovens and several other more seasoned campaigners, the game took on a different significance.
The ex-Sheffield Wednesday defender had just a week of pre-season training before being thrown in against Charlton on the opening day, and admits he has been ‘fighting against the tide’ ever since.
Circumstances at the time meant that Loovens had to start, despite his lack of preparation time.
And while the 36-year-old won’t use his lack of a pre-season as an excuse, he was pleased to gain some valuable match minutes at Morecambe.
“As a player it doesn’t matter what age you are, you need to have a good base and that comes from pre-season,” he admitted.
“I was already fighting against the tide a bit, but I had to be there because there was no other choice. That’s football and you deal with it and get on with it.
“A lot of us have not played for a while so for us it was a good workout.
“Max [Power], after a few suspensions as well, had to get back in the swing of things and Bryan [Oviedo] as well.
“It was good for the ones who have not played regularly.”