Sunderland boss delivers verdict as Niall Huggins and Frederik Alves debut in cup win

Lee Johnson hailed encouraging signs from Sunderland's two young debutants on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 6:00 am

Both Frederik Alves and Niall Huggins started the 3-2 Carabao Cup win over Blackpool, and both overcame a tricky start defensively to make a good first impression.

Huggins showed his impressive ability to drive forward in possession throughout, while Alves made some important defensive contributions in the early stages of the second half.

Johnson expects both to improve significantly as they get more senior minutes in the coming weeks and months.

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Niall Huggins makes his Sunderland debut at Bloomfield Road

"I thought Frederik found out the speed early, there were a couple of times he got caught," Johnson said.

"But in the second half he read the game really well, he gave himself that extra yard.

"He is a quick player and sometimes quick players trust their recovery, but you have to defend well and defend early.

"It was probably the quickest tempo game he has ever played in and it was a good learning process for him.

"You saw his quality tonight.

"Niall like a weasel isn't he? He scampers forward!

"At times he has to manage his tank a little bit though," Johnson added.

"I love his enthusiasm, but sometimes young players burn their energy a little bit too much.

"He will grow into it, he is so enthusiastic whether he is having a conversation or playing a football match, his enthusiasm is infectious.

"I thought they both did well.

"My only frustration, and this is me being greedy, is that we haven't had them through pre-season.

"I think this shows them you've got to really look after yourself because of the tempo we want to play at and the tempo that the opposition can play at."

With Dennis Cirkin returning to the starting XI at left back, it was a very youthful side that faced Neil Critchley's Championship outfit.

Johnson hailed Bailey Wright's experience and influence alongside Alves, and says it will be crucial Sunderland get the right balance as they look to progress the young talent in their ranks.

“I think the backline of the U23s had a higher average age than this one," Johnson joked.

"It is a difficult one because you’re always looking for the balance.

"You saw Bailey Wright today – it was a big crowd and a big noise but you could still hear his voice right to the end. Flanno has had that voice for us in recent games as well.

"We’ve clearly got quality young players, that’s there for everybody to see, but they’re going to make mistakes.

"We’ve got to allow them to make mistakes. The senior ones have got to keep their mistakes few and far between, but the younger ones are allowed to do that.

"If they didn’t make mistakes, they’d be playing in the Premier League already. All we can do is give them a clarity and a confidence to be able to play the bold type football we want.”

Sunderland will discover their third round opponents on Wednesday night, with the draw live on Sky Sports following the conclusion of West Brom v Arsenal.

The draw will no longer be regionalised.

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