Sixer Says: Under 18s developing First XI habits – but at least they score

Peter Sixsmith watches more live football than many a couch a potato sees on the box. Not for him the second hand delights of Roma v Lazio or the small screen experience of Hamilton Accies v Dundee United when there’s a live match on somewhere. There is of course the odd occasion when he’ll don the velvet smoking jacket and tasseled night cap, nursing a small measure of Tallisker single malt and see what’s on ESPN but more often than not he’ll brave the fickle North Eastern weather and get his fix at some obscure non league ground. But this week, despite the profound disappointment brought on by Saturday’s visit to the Stadium of Light, he was back there on Tuesday, this time to see how the Development Squad is developing. It was the Under 18s actually but why let that stand in the way of a Donleaveyesque introduction.

Here’s his report on how the mini Tractor Boys failed to turn over the grass roots of Sunderland AFC.

Pete Sixsmith climbs aboard the Soapbox
Pete Sixsmith climbs aboard the Soapbox


SAFC 3 Ipswich Town 1

On Monday, I was summoned to a meeting in London Town by the prop./ed. where I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to get my finger out and do some grass roots work.

“It’s all right sitting in the comfort of East Stand Row 30, Seat 404, but we want some more basic stuff”, he thundered. “Get yourself to the Youth Cup game on Tuesday night, or we could well be looking at a contract termination – minus the kind of settlement that the likes of Jozy will walk away with.”

With my tail firmly between my legs and the prop’s cigar smoke clinging to my nostrils, I scampered back to Kings Cross and undertook to produce a piece that showed how the current crop of Academy players would soon be gracing the Premier League and then the Champions League and the great stadiums of Europe in SAFC colours. If Southampton could do it, why not Sunderland? If they can turn out the likes of Shaw, Ward-Prowse, Walcott and Bale, why shouldn’t we?

Our Academy has not done a great deal over the last few years. Henderson and Colback were the last full graduates and they are plying their trade (love that cliché) away from the Stadium of Light now. Jordan Pickford is highly thought of and is doing well at Bradford City, despite being sent off on Saturday, but outfield players are few and far between.

I recently saw Ryan Noble, who I once genuinely enthused about, playing for Durham City at Shildon, where he turned in such an anodyne performance that he was unrecognisable from the blonde bombshell who rattled in a hat trick against the Mags in an Under 21 fixture. Jordan Cook is at Walsall, Craig Lynch at Spennymoor and Jordan Laidler at Newton Aycliffe; all had good pedigrees, all looked good at Under 18 and 19 level; all failed to make the grade at first team level.

We could add others, but the idea is to focus on the here and now and identify the positives. So, here goes.

We won 3-1 and now face Newcastle United at home in the next round. It did snow but it didn’t settle. I had superb fish and chips at Colman’s in South Shields. I enjoyed the craic with good friends. I sat in a padded seat so yah, boo, sucks to the prop.

The style that the team plays is similar to that of the first team. The ball is moved sideways and backwards before pacy wingers (Blinco and Greenwood) attack the opposition back four. Much of the hard work in the centre of midfield was done by Ethan Robson, who looked promising.
Like the first team, there was a worrying propensity to give the ball away and for the first 20 minutes or so, the Young Tractor Boys were the better side. Goalkeeper James Talbot, an Irish Under 17 international, and impressive throughout, made two good saves before he was beaten by a well taken goal from Victor Guldbrandsen, following an excellent cross from Kundai Benyu. The equaliser came in the first half from Jordan Blinco who cut in from the left and picked his spot, wrong footing the Ipswich keeper and from that moment on we were in charge.

Joe Bolton: have we found a replacement?
Joe Bolton: have we found a replacement?

However, passes were still misplaced and at times, the players seemed to be in too great a hurry to move the ball on when a little time taken on it would have helped. The tempo was greater than the first team effort on Saturday (although that would have been exceeded by a team of sloths playing a team of snails) and the longer the game went on, the more likely it was that we would win.
Unfortunately, it took us an extra half hour as we spurned chances in the second 45, the worst coming when full back Dan Casey, who had tackled like a young Joe Bolton throughout, managed to put a header wide in the 90th minute, condemning us to another 30 and the possibility of a penalty shoot-out.

The lead was established when Luke Molyneux scored in the 114th minute, with a goal similar to the first. His clever run and thoughtful shot sent the Town keeper the wrong way and when, a minute after the restart, fellow sub Dan Pybus scored after a good run, the game was over. There was still time for Ethan Robson to have a penalty saved which was justice as the foul (if it were one) appeared to be outside the box.

It was a cold night, a small crowd but a well merited win in the end. After the first 20 minutes, the back four strangled the life out of the Town attack, with central defenders Scott Colquhoun and Michael Ledger looking good.

It was frustrating at times but we sometimes forget that these are little more than boys who are learning how to play football in a particular way. Most will end up playing for fun and pocket money, some will make it as full time pros while the odd one may become a Premier League star, hopefully in a red and white striped shirt. We shall see.

And with that, I slunk off to the trusty Mazda and to listen to a wonderful commentary by Conor McNamara and Clive Allan on the West Ham v Everton replay. If the game was half as good as the Irishman’s description of it, it must have been an absolute belter. There is not a better commentator than McNamara at the moment; top man.

I gather the prop is following in the footsteps of Mike Ashley and swanning off to the Caribbean next week. At last, some peace and quiet for the staff!!


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3 thoughts on “Sixer Says: Under 18s developing First XI habits – but at least they score”

  1. I hope so,some tough tackling 60’s,70’s style Bryan Robson midfielder that can score 15 goals a season.

  2. It always saddens me when the majority of these young boys have their dreams and aspirations shattered. Some will go on to make a decent living in the lower leagues and maybe even make their way back to a decent level, witness Billy Knott and Conor Hourihane. The odd few, Henderson, C*****k and, to a certain extent Leadbitter, will become very good players. However, Spennymoor, Newton Aycliffe, Darlington (with all due respect) is the end of your footballing world. I wonder if we have a future superstar on the premises?

  3. Isn’t this the current trend Pete, to have the youngsters playing to the same tactics. methods. with the coaches developing players with the same ‘weltenschaung” as the first team management?

    There’s a danger with this pass, pass, pass view of the world that you bore spectators to death before they witness a legitimate shot on target.

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