Kevin Ball: Keep your cool

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KEVIN BALL says Sunderland’s youngsters must keep their heads in tonight’s Under-21 derby with Newcastle United.

The Black Cats host the Magpies at the Stadium of Light this evening (kick-off 7pm) looking to end a run of two successive defeats.

Development coach Ball doesn’t expect the derby bragging rights to be lost on his players, but has stressed that they must still maintain their composure and keep to the principals he is trying to instil in them.

Ball told the Echo: “Of course, this is one the players will want to win.

“But it’s important in the game we don’t get away from the way we want to do things.

“It doesn’t mean we suddenly start playing with the ball from back to front.

“You’ve got to be brave enough to bring the ball out from the back, brave enough to keep passing the ball and brave enough to retain it when you’re under pressure.

“That’s not easy for young lads.

“But it’s like a lot of things. As defenders, they’re very eager to go and win the ball whereas sometimes they’re better coming away, backing off and letting people win it for you so you keep your shape.

“It’s important they stick to what we want them to do.”

Sunderland were guilty of spurning several golden opportunities in September 2-2 draw on Tyneside, in an absorbing encounter between the two clubs.

“While we created chances that we didn’t take, you’d also have to say that from a defensive point of view, fair play to Newcastle,” said Ball.

“You could look at it either way. Newcastle will say it’s a deserved point, we could say we lost the opportunity to get three points.

“I just like to think it was a great game.

“Both teams played, worked hard and as development football, that’s what you want.”

Connor Wickham scored both of Sunderland’s goals in that game at St James’s Park, but the £8million striker was absent from Ball’s side in last Monday’s defeat at Aston Villa, due to his England U21 commitments.

Ball admits he is having to adapt to his ever-changing squad, with Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill deciding this morning which first-team players will be involved against the Magpies.

“We were working it out that, not including Connor or Ji (Dong-won), there were five or six U21 players that would have been involved last week,” added Ball

“Connor was away with England last week, Ji was injured and John Egan has gone on loan to Bradford.

“It is part and parcel of it. But the most important thing is how each individual performs.”

Newcastle coach Willie Donachie is without striker Adam Campbell, who is sidelined until the New Year with a knee problem.