Inside Oliver Younger's Sunderland debut and the key message he sent Lee Johnson ahead of Wembley
This was a league debut that has felt some time in the making.
Such has been the impression made by Oliver Younger behind the scenes that consecutive managers have entrusted him with call-ups to the first-team squad.
Under Phil Parkinson, the 21-year-old – who joined the Black Cats last summer from Burnley – was regularly training with the senior side and was involved in the Papa John’s Trophy on a regular basis.
That has continued under Lee Johnson, with Younger a regular inclusion on the bench in recent weeks given Sunderland's defensive injury woes.
He has consistently trained with the first-team since the arrival of the new head coach and, while still involved in under-23 fixtures when required, is very much considered a senior player on Wearside.
In that regard, he is the perfect example of the type of player Sunderland wanted to recruit for their second string side last summer – a player with potential, but one whom could contribute to the first-team if required.
And as the injuries continued to stack-up, it felt only a matter of time until Younger was handed a League One bow.
He was given that opportunity against Rochdale, and did his chances of further opportunities no harm at all.
There were some early jitters, but nothing that put Sunderland in any form of danger – and that was always going to be the case on a senior debut.
But for the most part, Younger didn’t look like a player who was making his league bow.
He was composed in possession and got forward well to support Sunderland’s attacks when the opportunity allowed – even if his delivery wasn’t quite as pin-point as others in the side. That, though, is perhaps to be expected from a player who naturally plies his trade as a central defender.
In his post-match interview, Jamie McAllister alluded to the fact that Younger is a player who loves to defend and that much was evident against Rochdale.
He was strong in the air, tough in the tackle and made one excellent interception on the stroke of half-time as his timely interception stopped Gabriel Osho from turning home a cross from inside the six-yard box.
Younger can clearly deal with the rigours of League One and the physical side of his game means he is well-equipped for football at this level.
There are improvements to be made, of course, but that is the case with the vast majority of young players at this level.
What this performance did was give both Johnson and Younger some encouragement for the future.
While Sunderland are set to welcome the likes of Bailey Wright, Tom Flanagan and Conor McLaughlin back in the near future, the hectic League One schedule may dictate that further rotation will be required along the line.
And in the short-term, some defensive cover may be required for the trip to Wembley next weekend given the injury situation and the fact Dion Sanderson is cup-tied.
But with his performance against the Dale, Younger has sent a clear message to the Sunderland head coach that he is ready to be called upon if necessary.