20,000 Mackems to watch Sunderland's young prospects
Over 20,000 fans have already secured a ticket ahead of tonight’s final which sees the Lads take on the prospects of FC Porto in what looks to be an intriguing game.
Sunderland will go into the final full of confidence, but face a stern test in the Portuguese side who have conceded a solitary goal on the road to the Stadium of Light. Home advantage will be a welcome boost as the Black Cats' brightest prospects do their utmost to bring some joy to the club this season.
The young Sunderland side will be eager to impress David Moyes and co. ahead of next season’s Championship campaign.
With the likes of Jordan Pickford, George Honeyman, Duncan Watmore, Lynden Gooch and Donald Love all finding game time in the first team this season, tonight’s match should serve as an opportunity for the young Lads to shine and stake a claim for next season’s gruelling campaign.
The home dugout
Ahead of tonight’s game Elliot Dickman - the U23s manager - has lavished praise on his charges:
To reach the final – overcoming some top opposition in the process – has in itself been a great achievement for the players and we now want to finish the job.
Playing at the Stadium of Light is always a fantastic experience for our younger players. To do so in front of a big crowd will be a fitting reward for them and with free entry we hope to see as many Sunderland fans as possible here to support the young players.
Dickman was installed as U23s boss in February following Andy Welsh's departure from the club.
The home side
The likes of Joel Asoro, Elliot Embleton and Josh Robson will be eager to impress in front of an impressive home crowd, and although Lynden Gooch and Josh Maja played some part in last night’s first-team game they too will be eager to get on the pitch.
Wins against Benfica, PSV Eindhoven, Athletic Bilbao and Norwich City have enabled the Lads to secure a final on home soil nonetheless, and now is their opportunity to prove their quality.
Youngster Elliot Embleton has been talking to the club’s website this week and expressed his excitement ahead of the tie, and hopes the crowd will play to the Lads’ advantage:
I just can’t wait for the evening to come round now and hopefully we will win.
It will be the biggest crowd I have played in front of. I have been on the bench with the first-team but to be able to play in front of 20,000 is so much different.
We have worked hard for it all season. We have beaten some good teams along the way and to be the only under-23s team left in England to get to a European final is unbelievable.
Everyone is excited, we are all ready for the game and now it is up to us to make sure we deliver on the big stage.
Indeed an English side getting to the final is certainly something to be proud of, and in times whereby our financial position looks uncertain, it is definitely a ray of light that our Academy is clearly competing with major club’s across Europe.
The opposition dugout
FC Porto B coach Antonio Folha says his side will take to the pitch at the Stadium of Light well prepared and determined to win.
Speaking to Porto's official website, the former Standard Liege, Athens and Porto winger now in charge of the reserve team at the Primeira Liga club says he is aware of Sunderland's strengths, but that he believes his side can overcome the home team:
We are looking at this competition with FC Porto, wherever this club comes in to win and that is the spirit we have in the team. Of course we know we will have a lot of difficulties against a very dangerous team that also made a good. But we are well prepared to play well and be able to win.
Identifying Sunderland's front men - Joel Asoro and Josh Maja - as the key dangermen, Folha has noted the attributes which have delivered a place in the final to Elliot Dickman's Under-23 squad:
Sunderland is a team that has very competent players, especially at the front. They are players with speed and skill and, if they can impose their game, they can complicate the life of any opponent.
Who to watch for amongst the visitors
Porto B have one game remaining in the domestic Portugal league and are set for a mid-table finish - currently 8th in the Segunda Liga.
Porto will line up with Brazilian teenager Wenderson Galeno on the right hand side of attack. The 19-year-old winger has scored 10 goals in Portugal's second-tier this season with 6 assists.
Previously on loan from Brazilian outfit Gremio Anapolis, Galeno has just signed a new deal with a 40-million-euro release clause inserted.
Defender Chidozie Awaziem has recently been linked with a move to Liverpool and Belgium Under-21 winger Joris Kayembe operates on the left-flank. Midfielder Chico Ramos has made 3 appearances for Porto's senior side and turns out in central midfield.
So don’t miss tonight's game if you have the opportunity to go and cheer on the young Lads. Kick off is 7pm at the SoL, though you need to get your ticket quick if you haven't already with the club instructing fans without tickets to get them from Black Cats House until 5pm or access can still be gained via the South Stand turnstiles which will be open from 5.30pm.
All fans who secure their seat will be given a £5 voucher towards any purchase of 2016-17 adidas replica kit and training wear at club stores and online*.
*Voucher valid until 31 May 2017
It’s a European final. On Wearside! And the Lads deserve your support. Ha’way!