ROBBIE STOCKDALE is relishing his new role in charge of Sunderland’s Under-21 side.
Ex-Middlesbrough defender Stockdale has succeeded former Sunderland skipper Kevin Ball as U21 boss, with the latter recovering from re-constructive knee surgery before taking on a new ambassadorial role at the club.
Stockdale only arrived at the Academy of Light two years ago from non-league Grimsby, yet after working alongside Ball for the last two seasons, the 34-year-old has been promoted and took charge of Sunderland’s first competitive game of the season last night - a last-gasp 1-0 defeat to Liverpool.
“It’s a big step-up, but one I think I’m comfortable in taking,” Stockdale told the Echo.
“Grimsby seems a long way away, but I can tell you the pressures were just as hard there, with the lack of finances and things like that.
“I’m enjoying it, I enjoying coach and working with the players.
“At the minute, they’re putting their all in.
“I think they can play better and hopefully that will come over the next few competitive games.”
The U21 squad enjoyed a prominent role in the first-team’s preparations during pre-season after they featured in the friendlies at Carlisle and Hartlepool before flying out Sunderland’s training camp in Portugal for the clash with Recreativo de Huelva.
“I came in during pre-season and the lads have been responsive, like I knew they would be,” added Stockdale.
“They’re enjoying the work we do in the academy. They’ve got some way to go, but we’ve had a great pre-season.
“To be honest, we haven’t spent much time on the training pitch because we’ve been here, there and everywhere playing games.
“But for kids who want to make it as footballers, that’s been fantastic for them.
“We’re really grateful that we’ve been given that opportunity and hopefully it will continue.”