Sunderland have a 10-point lead at the top of the Under-21s Premier League, yet Duncan Watmore is the only member of the club’s young guns to have played a minute for the struggling first-team this season.
It’s not a new problem for Sunderland. Since the crop of Jack Colback and Martyn Waghorn and Jordan Henderson - the latter returning to the Stadium of Light with Liverpool tonight - the Black Cats have struggled to bridge the gap for the club’s most promising youngsters.
You can play the U21s and get slaughtered for it and then down the line they say ‘why don’t you play the U21s?’.Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce is keen to improve the production of homegrown talent, with the likes of Tommy Robson, Tom Beadling and Lynden Gooch travelling with the Sunderland squad to away games over recent weeks, while prospects Ethan Robson and Rees Greenwood have both trained with the first-team.
With Younes Kaboul ruled out and John O’Shea a major doubt for tonight with a calf problem, Allardyce may have little choice than to hand centre-half Beadling his competitive debut against either Liverpool or Saturday’s opponents Aston Villa too.
But Allardyce believes managers often face an impossible situation over including the kids.
At West Ham two years ago, Allardyce received a storm of criticism after fielding the club’s rookies in a 5-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, when the Hammers faced a League Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester City four days later.
On the flip side of the coin, supporters regularly demand that the U21s are given an opportunity when the first-team is in the mire.
Allardyce said: “Whatever you do as a manager, you can play the U21s and get slaughtered for it and then down the line they say ‘why don’t you play the U21s?’.
“I played the U21s in the third round of the FA Cup for West Ham at Nottingham Forest and got slaughtered after we got beat five.
“That was to protect the team that was going to play on the Wednesday night in the League Cup semi-final against Man City.
“Your U21s can play if they are good enough and we have Duncan who is making strides in the right direction.
“He’s not really ready to start yet, even though I have played him in a couple of games and he did OK.
“He needs to slowly build up his experience and then his ability will shine through a bit more.
“There are one or two more that are training with us at the moment who we may need to use and I have to throw in at the deep end. Then we will see if they sink or swim.
“But generally, with the position we are in, it’s experience we need.
“If a youngster is good enough, though, physically and mentally, we will throw him in and see how he does.”