Kristjaan Speakman pledges first-team chance for Sunderland U23s after impressive campaign
Kristjaan Speakman has reiterated the club's commitment to giving more of their U23 players a first-team opportunity next season.
Elliot Dickman's group came within a penalty shootout of sealing a remarkable promotion this season, with an excellent run of form through the second half of the campaign moving them into contention.
It marked a significant turnaround from the curtailed 2019/20 season, where the U23 side did not win a league game.
Sporting Director Speakman said he was pleased not just with the upturn in results, but with signs of the team moving towards a more aggressive, high-pressing style.
A significant part of Speakman's brief is to oversee the implementation of that style in every Sunderland side.
A number of the players involved this season are set to be rewarded for their form, with Josh Hawkes known to be top of that list despite speculation linking him with a summer exit.
Oliver Younger could also be in line for more opportunities after recently extending his stay on Wearside for another year.
"We've been really pleased with that group," Speakman told safc.com.
"All the staff, coaches and behind the scenes have worked incredibly hard to try and turn around the fortunes of that group. It's well-documented they had a long period of time of not getting the results.
"They've had an incredible period of time over the second half of the season, we feel the team's played slightly more towards the Sunderland that we want.
"They've benefitted from getting the rewards out of that and that's given a bit of momentum. We had a fantastic game down at Selhurst Park and it was another demonstration of how the fans can make the environment to try and inspire the players.
"Everyone is gutted that again you fall short by such a small margin, but again we're proud of the players and we've got a cohort of that group that's going to come into the first-team squad for the start of next season."
Speakman believes the first half of Sunderland's play-off semi final second leg against Lincoln City showed why that new style of play can be effective for the club in the long run, especially at the Stadium of Light.
"We've done a lot of work to try and understand what the city is about and the identity of the city," he said.
"You want to build a football club that represents the city and a football philosophy that is intwined in everything that goes on in the city.
"I think that's really, really important and what you saw against Lincoln was when the team plays a certain style and a certain way - which would probably be the best example of what we want Sunderland to be in the future - how powerful and responsive the fanbase are to it.
"I think it's a collaborative venture. If we can bring that game style every single week to the Stadium of Light, we know we've got an unbelievable supporter base who are going to turn up to watch the games, then we should be a really, really, really powerful and effective team at home."