Sunderland U21 coach: No reason why we can’t go all the way in International Cup

Martin Smith (second left) gets congratulated on his penalty winner for Sunderland U21s against Bilbao. Picture by Frank Reid
Martin Smith (second left) gets congratulated on his penalty winner for Sunderland U21s against Bilbao. Picture by Frank Reid
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Coach Andy Welsh sees no reason why his Sunderland Under-21 side cannot go all the way and win the Premier League International Cup.

The Black Cats progressed to the knockout stages after topping Group D with an impressive 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao at the Stadium of Light.

That was a difficult game – they are a tough opposition. They handled the ball very well and moved it around the pitch well

Sunderland U21 coach Andy Welsh on Athletic Bilbao

Welsh believes the test posed by the Spanish side was the “toughest yet” faced by his young charges.

And after successfully overcoming Bilbao, Welsh has challenged his side to prove they have what it takes to win the competition.

Sunderland’s quarter-final opponents will be either Villarreal, Leicester City or PSV Eindhoven. The knockout stages are played as single-leg ties in England.

“I think we can go far in this tournament,” said a beaming Welsh.

“I asked the lads in the dressing room afterwards the same question because we have beaten two very good sides now in this competition, Manchester City and Athletic Bilbao.

“There is no reason, after the way we have performed, why we can’t go all the way.

“I really mean that. There is nothing stopping us.

“We have to puff our chests out and see if we can do that. We will see who we draw and go from there.”

Sunderland took the lead through Danny Graham’s 34th minute strike, before they were pegged back by Gorka Guruzeta’s fine finish.

After a dogged second-half display, Martin Smith sealed the win with an 83rd minute penalty to send the Black Cats through in style.

Graham impressed with his workrate up front, while Ethan Robson and Smith excelled in the centre of midfield, helping to keep Bilbao at bay.

Welsh said the threat posed by the Basque outfit was one of the toughest challenges his young prospects have faced this campaign.

And he was delighted with how they defended, Sunderland defending resolutely throughout.

Welsh added: “That was a difficult game – they are a tough opposition.

“They handled the ball very well and moved it around the pitch well and we had to be very organised and compact, we had to work extremely hard. It was a game of few chances for both teams, really.

“But we just managed to edge the game overall through our hard work, desire and workrate.

“It was one of the toughest challenges this side has faced.

“Borussia Monchengladbach were very strong physically and we have played Manchester City too, who were technically good.

“Bilbao were excellent in their passing and movement and that is difficult to play against, at any level.

“It is all good experience and we learn a lot about the players in these sorts of games.”

Bilbao will reach the last eight if they draw at Manchester City in their final sectional tie.