Sunderland under-23s host Tottenham Hotspur this evening in the Premier League 2 as the lads start their league season at Eppleton Colliery Welfare (kick-off 7pm).
The young Black Cats, under the tutelage of Elliot Dickman, have faced four non-league sides as well as a conditioning trip to Austria with the first team in a tough pre-season campaign.
Speaking to safc.com Dickman explained how the preparation work has gone for his young side:
We have shown a really good attitude and without the ball we have been quite good. The messages have been consistent about their work ethic and we have to work very hard as a team. We have to make sure we are very competitive and without the ball we want to make sure that we don’t panic, we look after it and we play sensibly.
It will be the same messages we have been using for the last six weeks. The good thing was that we played against four men sides which was terrific for us and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
There were different challenges for the lads physically, plus the fact that these teams have been around that level on a regular basis. They are a bit more street wise so they know the game a bit better and the tricks that can be used to their advantage.
Bryan Oviedo looks set to feature having missed Costa Rica’s opening game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, injuring his leg during training. Scans revealed muscle damage and the Costa Rican has been out of action since early July.
The defender has only played ten games for Sunderland but his return will be welcomed by Simon Grayson, who needs rotatable options at left back. With 31 international appearances and Brendan Galloway failing to convince against Derby and Bury, Oviedo's experience could prove valuable in the Championship.
Other first team players expected to play this evening are Robbin Ruiter, Jack Rodwell, Donald Love and Papy Djilobodji, with the Sunderland manager stressing the need to give his squad players game time whenever it is possible.
Opportunities to progress to the first team are there for the U23s if they capitalise on chances like tonight. The path of progression to the first team has been paved by Duncan Watmore, Lyndon Gooch, George Honeyman, Josh Maja and Joel Asoro in recent times as Grayson attempts to construct a hard-working and energetic side.
Jack Diamond could be the one to watch tonight. Able to play on each wing and upfront, the youngster was fast-tracked into the U23s a year early. The attacker has pace and regularly contributed to the U18s with goals and assists last campaign.
Could he be the next starlet to break through into the first-team?
Entry is free for season ticket holders, if you don't have a season ticket the game is a steal at £3 for adults and £1 for over 65s and under 16s. Cash sale tickets are available on the door.