KEVIN Ball says Sunderland’s quartet of first-teamers will reap the benefits from an outing for the Under-21s.
Phil Bardsley, Kader Mangane, David Vaughan and Keiren Westwood all completed the full 90 minutes of the team’s 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough at a bitterly-cold Stadium of Light last night.
It was a second outing within a fortnight for Mangane, while Vaughan and Bardsley got the chance to stake their claim for Sunday’s crunch Premier League encounter against Norwich after being restricted to substitutes roles at QPR last weekend.
Ball said: “When you’re not playing in the first-team you can do all the training you want – but it’s a totally different concept playing a game.
“Whether that’s at Under-21 level or wherever, the pitch dimensions makes everything totally different.
“It does them the world of good, and when the opportunity arises, I encourage the manager to play them.
“I also think it’s good for the younger players, because they enjoy playing alongside them.”
Bardsley and Mangane both received treatment during the second half, but were able to continue until the final whistle.
“Kader got a whack on the chops, but it’ll take a big whack to stop him!” joked Ball.
The draw extended Sunderland’s search for a win in 2013 after being pegged back by Boro. After a quiet first half, Sunderland took the lead just 20 seconds after the break when Ryan Noble knocked the ball into an empty net.
But Boro fought back and after a sustained spell of possession, they drew level with 16 minutes to go when substitute Bradley Fewster profited from a highly debatable onside call.
Ball added: “I thought in the first half we had a few opportunities where we should have been at least looking to hit the target.
“I wasn’t particularly happy at half-time – I felt we could do better. We started the second half a lot better, but then lost our way a bit.”
SUNDERLAND: Westwood, Bardsley, Ferguson, Vaughan, Harrison, Mangane, Reed, Laidler, Noble, Mandron, Lynch (Mitchell, 81).