Sunderland midfielder Martin Smith insists League Two is “miles ahead” of the Under-21 Premier League after joining Carlisle United on loan.
Smith moved to Brunton Park until the end of the season last weekend and made his debut as a second half substitute in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Wycombe.
The 20-year-old has been an integral figure for the Sunderland side which has risen to the top of the Under-21 Premier League this season and are fighting it out with Manchester United to be crowned champions.
But big question marks remain over the competitiveness of the U21 league and Smith believes it is far more beneficial for him to be playing for Carlisle.
“I’m a local lad, a Sunderland fan, and to play for them in the Under-21s is important, but that (League Two) is miles ahead,” said Smith.
“When you’re on the pitch, you can’t hear what the manager’s saying, can’t hear what the staff are saying, you can just hear the crowd shouting on.
“Playing in front of people, the pressure for points – you don’t get that with the 21s. Sometimes having a bit of pressure and dealing with it makes you a better player.
“It’s a big step and I hope I can live up to it. Coming here was a no-brainer and everyone has made me feel welcome.
“Making my Football League debut was a big moment for me and I’m grateful - now I’ve got to repay the faith the gaffer has put in me.
“I want to play as high as possible but I have to show I can handle it at this level.”
Smith - who made one substitute’s appearance during a loan spell at Gateshead earlier this season - is out-of-contract at the end of the campaign and is understood to be available for transfer.
But the combative midfielder knows he has a chance to impress at Carlisle, with the Cumbrians outside contenders for the League Two play-offs.
“I started at Sunderland at six and signed the papers at eight, and I live a walk away from the training ground,” he added.
“It’s my home club, and I’ve got a lot of love for it, but in my head now this is my club – Carlisle.
“That’s how it has to be and I’ll be here every day.
“It’s my job for the remaining 10 games to help the team as much as I can and try to help the team finish as high as we can.”