Sunderland stars face dropping down to Under-21s

Will Buckley
Will Buckley
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SUNDERLAND’S fringe players will be used more frequently for the Under-21s to maintain their match fitness, under new club plans.

Since the U21 Premier League replaced the old reserve team system three years ago, first-team participation has dwindled throughout the competition.

In Holland, it’s normal for players to play in the second team. It’s good for them

Dick Advocaat

Clubs are allowed to field three over-age players, plus a senior goalkeeper, but it is rare that clubs make the most of that allocation.

However, new Sunderland head coach Dick Advocaat included Adam Johnson, Sebastian Coates, Will Buckley and Vito Mannone in the U21s’ win over Southampton last week.

Due to the travelling demands, there were no senior players involved for the U21s’ draw at Norwich on Monday, and neither are there likely to be any for tomorrow’s trip to Fulham.

But Advocaat will use next month’s remaining two home games to field those first-teamers lacking competitive action - normal procedure for clubs in his native Holland.

And that is likely to be a sign of things to come at Sunderland, with the club already holding discussions over a more integrated approach between the first-team and U21 squad.

Advocaat told the Echo: “In this league, you really need more than 11 players.

“We don’t do it with 11 players. We do it with 20 players. Everybody is important.

“Not everybody can play, that’s the way it is.

“In Holland, it’s normal for players to play in the second team. It’s good for them.

“Now there’s been two away games this week, so we’ve had some good training sessions (instead).

“But I still think playing in a game is much better.”

U21 pair George Honeyman and Liam Agnew have both made their first-team debuts this season, yet no academy graduates have become regulars for the Black Cats since Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback.

To smooth that transition, Sunderland had been planning more first-team involvement at U21 level, prior to Advocaat’s appointment.

And development coach Robbie Stockdale believes that can be as beneficial for the senior figures, as those still hoping to make the grade.

“It’s something we’re looking at doing more often next season,” he said. “But we were talking about that way before (the managerial change).

“You have to play 21s games between Friday and Monday, so if you play on a Friday, you’re stopping players who could be involved on a Saturday.

“You have to find that happy balance. I think it’s good for them.

“For players like Seb (Coates) and Vito, when was the last time they played 90 minutes on a big pitch?

“You can run up and down for 90 minutes on a training pitch, but actually having to move and look at what is around you is different.

“As long as they come down with the right attitude, then it’s brilliant.”