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Lincoln City v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy EFL Trophy

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Editorial: Grab the brass ring - every minute you have on the pitch is a chance to impress!

Let’s keep winning, and let’s keep treating every single minute we have out there on the pitch as a valuable opportunity to impress - it can only lead to far, far better things to come for this football club.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Winning, at all levels of football, should become a habit.

It’s why I don’t agree when people say that Sunderland should disregard cup competitions and focus on the league - for me, that’s a loser’s mentality.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t approach these games differently, because expecting your best first-team players to play in every game doesn’t seem logical.

You spend the summer recruiting players and crafting your side so that when you need to maximise your resources, you can.

Add to that the influx of your best young U23s talent, and you suddenly have two or three different sides that you can select from.

Just look at the team that we fielded when the U23s defeated Leeds United on Sunday, for instance. The return of Arbenit Xhemajli aside, it was a very young team that Elliot Dickman fielded - mostly made up of players from our U18s setup - yet they won the game, and deserved the three points.

On Wednesday, when we face Manchester United U21s in the EFL Trophy, I’d expect we’ll see a team similar to the one that faced Lincoln last week - one made up of fringe players and U23s, with Ellis Taylor, Ollie Younger and co getting another shot at impressing Lee Johnson.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Premier League 2 Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

While other clubs might play a team of fringe players and kids because they’re not taking the competition seriously, it seems to be quite the opposite with Sunderland - we’re taking it very seriously, and are using these games as a way of offering chances to players that wouldn't otherwise get them.

That runs parallel with the first team winning games in League One - when you’re winning, it’s much easier to justify to frustrated players why they aren’t getting minutes in league games. But, you can flip that on its head and turn these cup games into proper opportunities for players to come in and prove their worth.

I think that’s massive, and just one of many things Lee Johnson has got right this season.

Every single minute you get out there - whether it’s in League One, the League Cup or the EFL Trophy - is a chance to show him why he should pick you.

Winning, therefore, becomes natural. It means opportunities are more likely to arise if you can play your part in a winning performance.

It’s a change in culture that we’ve needed for many years here.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Manchester City - who are at the very top of the food chain, and really are an example to others on culture and philosophy in this country - treat the cups in a very similar manner.

Instead of disregarding them as an unwelcome distraction, they use them as opportunities for players to impress, whilst also giving meaningful competitive minutes to some of their best youngsters.

Whether you’re the top team in the Premier League, a League One side or even a Northern League club, fostering a winning mentality and adopting it as part of your culture is a key component to eventual success.

It’s great that we’ve finally identified this as an important tool in developing our best youngsters - and it’s something I’m sure that we’d all agree is very important as we look to rebuild the club, and move forward at pace.

Becoming academy-centric is a key component of what the club are looking to achieve under the current administration, and as we jump through the leagues, it’ll become harder and harder for players to make it through the system. That’s just the truth of it.

Lincoln City v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy EFL Trophy Photo by Andrew Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

But when academy youngsters see Dan Neil wearing the captain’s armband and scoring goals, and see 18-year-old winger Ellis Taylor figuring as part of the senior squad right throughout pre-season up until now, it shows them that there’s a genuine pathway to the first team - it gives these players something to aspire to.

They work and train with these lads each day, but then come a matchday, they see them playing their part in Lee Johnson’s squad.

When Wednesday night rolls around, it will be yet another massive opportunity for these players to reach for the brass ring - to show the manager why they’re worthy of wearing a Sunderland shirt and forming part of his side.

That’s why I believe we’ll win, and that’s why I believe we’ll continue to do very well in the various cup competitions we’re part of this season - because these games are valued just as highly as the league games, albeit in a very different way.

Let’s keep winning, and let’s keep treating every single minute we have out there on the pitch as a valuable opportunity to impress - it can only lead to far, far better things to come for this football club.


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