Inside the Sunderland under-23 dressing room after ending their 343-day winless run

The celebrations were muted.

Sunday, 26th January 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 26th January 2020, 1:05 pm
Inside the Sunderland U23 dressing room

The odd fist-pump here, a hug there - and no music blaring from the portacabin changing rooms post-match.

But make no mistake, this was a big win.

For after eleven months, and 343 days, Sunderland’s under-23 side had a victory.

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Yes, they had tasted success in the Durham Challenge Cup in the interim, but in their bread and butter - the Premier League 2 and Premier League Trophy - three points had proved elusive.

They had come close, pushing the likes of Liverpool all the way and competing with a host of talented sides.

It would be Huddersfield, though, who finally fell victim to a clinical Sunderland performance.

That, says manager Elliott Dickman, has finally reflected the hard work shown behind the scenes at the Academy of Light during a testing period.

“I’m pleased for the lads and the staff who work with the players,” he said.

“Like I keep saying I’m privileged to see what they do behind the scenes every day.

“Listen, I’m not getting carried away. It wasn’t a football classic, but we’ve managed to win a game - which is never easy.

“I’m just pleased for the players massively and the staff who tirelessly work behind the scenes.

“I think in the first half we probably had a lot more chances than we did in the second, so we probably could have got back in the game and taken the lead earlier,” he continued.

“In the second half they put us under pressure and our keeper has made a couple of good saves.”

His views were echoed by skipper Jack Bainbridge - who has been at the heart of the side during their tricky run of results.

“It means a lot, to be fair,” said the former Everton and Swansea City centre back.

“People don’t see what we’re like behind the scenes. We work hard every day with El and Proc, everyone - and nobody sees it.

“Everyone sees the results and thinks ‘oh, they might not be working hard’.

“But we are, and it’s nice to get the win.

“We missed a few chances in the first half, so in the second half we knew we had to get at them.

“When we pressed, we had a good chance of scoring goals.

“We’ve worked hard for it. It took a while to get the win, but now we just need to take that forward.”

The Black Cats’ win was made even more impressive given the circumstances behind it.

Dickman was deprived of his two starting full-backs just hours before the game - forcing late changes, both in personnel and tactics.

It led to some unorthodox roles for the club’s youngsters - but the Sunderland under-23 chief was pleased with how they adapted.

“We lost Owen Gamble the day before to illness, so we were already looking at what we would do without him,” he explained.

“Then Kane Evans was ill, so we lost two full-backs.

“So we went with three at the back. Normally we have two full-backs in that wing-back area, but we had two wide players - Ryan Leonard and Cieran Dunne.

“It’s never easy to slot into that role, but they did it well.”

Their willingness to adapt was fuelled by the spirit that has been fostered in the dressing room.

While poor results could have led to fractures and cliques, they have instead had the opposite effect. Tough times have forged a togetherness.

“It’s tough, because you get so many knock-backs,” explained Bainbridge.

“That’s the spirit within the team, though. We just keep bouncing back.

“Every game we looked at it as one we could win, but just kept getting knocked back and knocked back.

“But we believed in ourselves that we could - and we’ve done that now.”