Wanting to get every last penny out of my Season Card (and the fact that I have very little else to do on a Monday night) I frequently find myself visiting Eppleton CW to watch our second string take on the rest of the country in the U21s Premier League. It's quite fulfilling actually - you can get a seat on the halfway line, a bacon sarnie only costs about a quid and the standard of football is actually more intelligent and enjoyable than the stuff our first team have played for years.
It is, afterall, exactly the standard you should come to expect from a squad of products from a Premier League youth academy. With a scouting network that now extends beyond the North East and facilities that make most clubs worldwide jelous, the standard of coaching our young players receive at the academy is light years ahead of anything we have ever had. When so much has been spent on finding, developing and nurturing talent from a young age, you come to expect that many of the players that are handed scholarships at our club are capable of playing professional football at some stage of their career, whether that be at Sunderland or elsewhere.
The likes of Mandron, Marrs, Mitchell, Watmore, Laing, Harrison, Egan and Pickford are all decent footballers, who have been coached to play football the modern way. I've seen enough of them first hand to say so. Kevin Ball has done a stunningly good job with our U21s side and their style of football is exactly how you want to see your team play - a quick, high tempo passing game involving creative attacking play and plenty of goals, with quick overlappting fullbacks and midfielders that are capable of supplying the forwards with goals.
Why does the buck stop with our first team side, then?
How can a football club be capable of teaching their sides from U21s all the way down to U7s how to play the right way, only for it to fall short at the most important stage?
It seems odd to me. If we are producing the goods at every level up until U21s, why aren't enough of these players being integrated into our first team with the hope we'll actually have some good Premier League standard footballers develop within our first team squad?
Martin O'Neill would rather name six players on the bench than give the last place to a young player. Di Canio only named young players on the bench towards the end of the season because he had very little other choice. Thus far, Poyet has not had to chance to allow some of the youngsters a chance to prove themselves.
We'll find out soon enough, I guess. We have a rather important league cup game on Tuesday night and with the Carlisle tie just two days before, it makes sense for us to delve into our U21s squad for the FA cup tie and allow our younger players to showcase what they've trained their whole lives for. We've also got so many players out of contract come the summer and the prospect of a relegation that, should we find ourselves a championship side next term, it's going to be seemingly impossible to ignore our youngsters for much longer.
If they fail on Sunday then so what? I've suffered the likes of Adam Johnson and Gardner this season, and last. I'm fairly sure you'd see better levels of application from the players who actually give a stuff than you will from the majority of these wasters that have us languishing at the bottom of the table.
I'll be massively disappointed if we don't see some of our youngsters that have earned a chance to show their ability play on Sunday. It's a great opportunity for Gus to see what they are about under very little pressure.