Phil Smith's verdict: Promising youngsters and professional seniors leave Jack Ross facing welcome dilemmas

Alim Ozturk was one of a number of players to impress at Morecambe
Alim Ozturk was one of a number of players to impress at Morecambe
Have your say

The Checkatrade Trophy is much derided and in truth it has not been hard to see why.

Tuesday night saw another raft of low attendances across the country and the inclusion of U21 sides makes for a bizarre spectacle, the tempo of games undoubtedly suffering when seniors meet juniors.

For Sunderland, however, the competition is serving a useful purpose and so it was again at the Globe Arena.

The game was not one to linger in the memory but Jack Ross was able to get some valuable minutes into a number of players who he will need in the coming weeks.

First and foremost they got the job done, topping the group and avoiding a pointless penalty shootout that would have done the Checkatrade no favours.

Their late winner also sent a staggering, remarkable 1,569-strong support home with something to celebrate and tangible dreams of Wembley.

For Jack Ross, he has some welcome dilemmas ahead of Wycombe’s visit this Saturday.

Josh Maja struggled to get into the game but as the hosts tired, he began to show his trademark intelligence and find promising pockets of space.

His goal was typically well taken and will give him a confidence boost.

Jerome Sinclair has performed admirably in recent weeks, providing more physicality and perhaps a better all-round contribution, but Maja’s goal record speaks for itself.

Those conundrums are popping up all over the pitch.

Bryan Oviedo’s quality was never in doubt and he played well, professional and diligent off the ball and a constant threat on it.

It was the same story for Max Power, who controlled the tempo in the middle park even if there are clearly more gears for him to go through.

Even at centre-back, where Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan have nailed down a starting spot, Alim Ozturk was assured and Glenn Loovens steady.

Ross is starting to get severe competition in every position.

Of course, the night also served as a welcome opportunity to take a closer look at the next generation of talent and the signs were promising.

Jake Hackett played with a maturity well beyond his 18 years, helping Power control the midfield. His composure and technique on the ball was heartening.

The two summer signings, Jack Bainbridge and Jordan Hunter, also showed signs of promise.

Bainbridge won praise from James Fowler after the game and he was involved in a lot of good build-up play, helping the side play out from the back without ever inviting unnecessary pressure.

Combining that with steady defending, it was a display that marked him out as a solid back-up option.

Hunter had a tougher task but the former Liverpool youngster was playing in an unfamiliar wing-back berth and his energy was impressive.

There was almost a champagne moment in the first half when he came close to finishing off a great team move with a long-range effort on his left foot.

In the final third Jack Diamond and Lee Connelly looked raw, but that is to be expected from a pair still very much in the early stages of their development.

Diamond has an uncanny knack of being able to beat his man and came close to scoring early in the second half.

Their performances were all the more encouraging when you consider that many of the club’s best young talent weren’t able to feature.

Bali Mumba and Benjamin Kimpioka were both away on international duty while Elliot Embleton continues to impress on loan at Grimsby Town.

James Fowler summed it up neatly post match. It was not a classic but ultimately, Sunderland got out of it exactly what they needed.

The Black Cats will be very eager to ensure that this time next season, it is their U21 side featuring in this competition.

For now, however, it is serving a purpose.