Robbie Stockdale has labelled Sunderland’s involvement in the Checkatrade Trophy a positive experience.
But he does not want it to end tonight.
The Black Cats’ Under-23s host League Two club Notts County at the Stadium of Light, where a home win would take the Wearsiders through to the knockout stages (kick-off 7.30pm).
It is the club’s first involvement in the competition since the 1980s.
Sunderland are one of the clubs to benefit from the inclusion of Premier U23 sides in a tournament previously limited to teams from Leagues One and Two, whose reluctance to welcome the big clubs has been sugared by prize money of £10,000 per win.
“It’s been an excellent experience for our younger players,” said the first-team coach, who will be in charge of the side this evening. “It’s given our senior players who have needed minutes the opportunity to play in a proper game.
“And because there’s something on the game it feels a little bit different to regular development fixtures.”
After group fixtures at Rochdale (a 1-1 draw followed by a defeat on penalties) and Hartlepool United (1-0 win), Stockdale hopes they do not come a cropper in their only home group match
“It will be interesting how it goes at the Stadium of Light,” said Stockdale.
“Has playing away on tighter grounds made it feel a little bit more intense?
“I’m hoping there will be a few people in to watch some talented players.”
Stockdale knows a win will be good enough to take Sunderland through to the last 32. Unfortunately, should they lose or draw and lose on penalties, it all starts getting a little complicated.
Rochdale occupy top spot with five points, one better than Sunderland, with both having a plus one goal difference.
Notts County are on three points, with Pools, who host Dale tonight, the only club definitely out on zero at the bottom. A Black Cats win will definitely take them through as would a draw at 90 minutes and a spot-kick victory.
But a defeat means they are out, while a draw and a penalty shoot-out defeat means they are relying on Pools winning at Victoria Park.
“We want to win,” said Stockdale. “Development is great for our young players, but winning the game is part of it as well.
“You have to respect each club’s views on the competition and what they want to get out of it.
“Will there be tweaks to it next year? I’m sure there will. Will it carry on next year? I hope so.
“There is prize money on every game, which has not really been highlighted in the press.
“If I’m a League Two chairman, I’d be saying ‘I want to win these games’ and we want to win them, not purposely for that, but it does add something a bit extra.
“Speaking with Craig (Hignett, the Pools boss) at Hartlepool, the competition wasn’t working for him because he wanted to blood more players.
“You saw maybe a couple of dubious substitutions in the last round, shall we say?
“These things probably need to be ironed out.
“There were always going to be teething problems.
“But, so far, the experience has been a positive one for us, it’s a real game against senior opposition.”