Ball boys turn on the style at SoL

It’s dipped to the lower 30s in the Emirates but some of us still find the heat ferocious. Pete Sixsmith, made of sterner stuff, braved a cold night on Wearside to watch the young ‘uns

If it’s Tuesday, there’s got to be football on somewhere. All the better if it’s watching potential stars making a name for themselves at the Stadium of Light where our Under 18s took on Norwich City in Round 3 of the FA Youth Cup.

By going to this game rather than the Ashington v West Auckland Northern League clash, I was able to kill a few birds with the same stone.

First I managed to purchase a new phone to replace the antiquated Motorola that has my class of 16-year-olds giggling and shaking their heads every time I get it out.

Then I was able to buy tickets for the panto at the Empire which, for those away from the North East, stars 83-year-old Mickey Rooney as Baron Hardup and 50-odd-year-old Les Dennis as Buttons.

By calling in I was able to avoid the ridiculous admin charge of £3 a ticket and it also enabled me to reach the SoL shop at 5.30pm and admire a lengthy queue of young and old waiting to have their pictures taken with a smiling and laid back Dwight Yorke.

But the game was the main reason for being away from my fireside and my bottle of Laphroagh.

I don’t see much of the Under 18s but, through friends who do (the Academy Stalwarts as they are known), I have heard nothing but good reports.

The Echo said they were expecting a tough test from a Norwich side that had held Arsenal 2-2 in their last game but in truth, with Roy Keane watching, it was anything but.

Norwich’s performance was a bit like Baldrick’s war poem in Blackadder – it started badly and got worse as it went on. Luke Emson, their goalkeeper (to be fair, an inexperienced late replacement), had a nightmare and was beaten five times before he limped dejectedly off.

It could have been double figures as our attacking players in general, and Martyn Waghorn in particular, missed a succession of clear cut chances. He redeemed himself by bagging a hat trick and was joined on the scoresheet by Jordan Henderson, Josh Home-Jackson (a hyphenated player at Sunderland – what is the world coming to?) and Ryan Noble Norwich were gifted an equaliser after our opening goal but were never in the game; it ended 6-1 and they were fortunate to avoid an even bigger thumping.

Waghorn is interesting. He isn’t very big (neither was Kevin Phillips), he is quite stocky (so was the wonderful Marco) and he runs at defenders in a straight line (just like Dennis Tueart). He appears to be the most promising of a crop of good youngsters who, while they may not make it in the Premier League, should make some kind of living out of the game.

Others who caught the eye were Henderson, a very industrious midfielder with a good eye for the killer ball, Nathan Luscombe, who buzzed around on the left side and Adam Reed, a combative midfielder who injured himself with a fierce tackle just before half time.

It’s Kevin Ball’s team and it has been interesting to see him develop as a coach. A couple of years ago, I saw him at the Riverside in a similar game against the Boro.

He was shouting and gesticulating and coaching as he played, with his heart on his sleeve and with a passion for Sunderland. His Boro counterpart Dave Parnaby stood quietly making notes and waiting for half time to get his message across. We lost 3-0 against a Boro side that has gone on to produce three or four first teamers.

Last night Bally was calm and dignified, talking quietly and encouraging players to do what they can do and not what he would do. That’s how good coaches develop – and good coaches develop good players.

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