John Hewitson has previewed Sunderland Under-21s’ trip to face Middlesbrough on Friday night, as the young Lads head to Bishop Auckland in their first Premier League 2 action of September.
Hewitson claims the unanticipated extended break has been used to the team’s advantage, with extra preparation in order alongside a training friendly which resulted in defeat to Sheffield United last week, but maintained match fitness for his charges.
“We always strive to add more detail and organisation to what we’re trying to do. Of course, we haven’t had a game since we were last preparing for this fixture two weeks ago, so we’ve added more layers onto what we already worked on previously,” the interim U21 Head Coach said.
“We know Middlesbrough are a very tough opponent – matches against them are like playing against an adult side. Their teams are very hard-working, they’re ferocious in winning first and second balls, and they’re very direct when they want to be.
“Our recent friendly allowed players to get minutes into their legs and keep themselves ticking over, despite the result. We want to maintain the sharpness into Friday night.”
With four league games currently under their belt, the youngsters have made steady progress and despite two defeats in four, Hewitson assesses the opening results of the campaign with a lot of new additions.
“I think you have to look at the context of where we’re currently at and some of the teams we’ve played against.
“Whilst you never want to get beaten, when you look at the likes of Aston Villa – the players they have and the money they invest into their youth programme – you have to have some realistic targets. We’re overjoyed with the win at Derby and the second half against West Brom, although we don’t want to return to having to climb Everest just to get a point.
“The Norwich game was hard to judge as most of the squad were in Canada, as well as myself, and a very young side put in a very determined performance to nearly grab a result.”
Friday night’s contest at Heritage Park could also provide an opportunity for a handful of Tony Mowbray’s first-team squad, with the international break putting paid to any Sky Bet Championship fixtures.
Bailey Wright, Edouard Michut and Jay Matete are all players with a possibility of game time, and Hewitson explains the benefits for the U21 boys.
“I think whatever happens Friday, there are players there for different reasons. Some players are needing minutes or players aren’t quite in that first XI and want to impress the Head Coach and his staff.
“There are a lot of individual targets for certain players that they want to achieve. For the young players – for example a Zak Johnson or a Cameron Jessup – to be alongside someone like Bailey Wright is invaluable with the amount of knowledge and experience these senior players have.”
Friday night's game is available to attend on the turnstiles at Heritage Park, with tickets costing £3.