Elliott Dickman previews key clash with Spurs.
Sunderland’s Academy head of coaching, Elliot Dickman, has praised the work done by Craig Liddle as the Black Cats’ under-18s build up to their biggest game of the season to date against Tottenham Hotspur on Friday.
Dickman says Liddle, along with his players, should take great credit for their turnaround in form in 2013 which has seen them climb to the top of the Barclays U18 Premier League Group One.
And should the young Black Cats defeat Spurs on Friday at the Academy of Light, they will all but confirm their place in the play-offs with one game remaining.
“It’s a great opportunity for the lads, I think they’ve worked very, very hard and been very receptive to us this season, especially the back end of the campaign,” Dickman said.
“Craig’s done a lot of work with them, myself a little bit, but more Craig - he has worked very hard with them and he’ll have them ready for it.
“It’s a good game but it’ll be a learning curve and, whatever the outcome, if it’s positive then we’ll all be happy.
"If it's negative we still have an opportunity against Liverpool, but it’s an important game.
“The lads will probably hype it up a little bit more than the staff but it’s important, like every game, that we give our best and try to win the match."
Kevin Ball’s under-21 side also play on Friday - at Fulham - leaving Liddle and Dickman to ponder their options in terms of team selection.
Dickman expects to name a similar team to the side that has won its last three games, with most of his second-year scholars featuring for the under-21s.
“There is an under-21 game against Fulham on Friday so we’ve got two games on the same day,” he explained.
“The squads aren’t massively there in terms of numbers.
“There could be another one [player going up to the U21s]. We’re not sure, although we do have a side in mind.
“We’re just waiting to cross the T’s and dot the I’s in terms of finalising who goes with Kevin, but it is looking likely it’ll be more of the lads that have been around the U18’s since Christmas.”
The young Black Cats were heavily beaten at Spurs in February and Dickman expects another tough game, though the team will take heart from the fact they have lost only once since the 5-1 defeat in North London.
“They’re a very good side; they’ve got some good pace down the flanks,” he explained.
“I don’t know what their situation is. I believe they’ve got three games over the weekend so they’re playing us on Friday and they’ve got another game on Saturday, plus an under-21 match on the Monday.
“Looking at what their last under-21 side was, there were a lot of boys who played against us in that under-18 side so they could be similar to us in that they might bring first-years up and a lot of under-16’s, plus maybe the odd second-year.
“They’re a good side with one or two good midfield players so it will be a good test for the lads.
"We’ve won three on the bounce so we’ll go in with confidence.”