A young Sunderland side bridged the age gap with aplomb in a memorable Future Champions Cup campaign in South Africa, according to Academy head of coaching Elliott Dickman.
First-year scholar Ryan Ellison was the oldest player on the trip to take part in the U17 tournament in Johannesburg, with a significant portion of the travelling squad made up of 15 and 14-year-olds.
Some faced off against players up to three years their senior as the youngsters finished seventh overall in a field of 16 teams.
“We were really pleased with the lads’ performances in what were some tough games,” Dickman said.
“We had a relatively young squad in comparison to other sides, but in terms of philosophy the lads knew their jobs and what was expected, and they stuck to that.
“I think the performances were very impressive.
“From a football perspective, on the technical and tactical side we did really well, and I wouldn’t like to single anyone out because everyone contributed, no matter how much they played during the tournament.”
Dickman added: “The players were very receptive to the ideas the staff threw at them and really bonded as a group.
“The players generally play together every week but the trip was icing on the cake in terms of the group. We were delighted with them.
“They took a lot of responsibility for such young lads – it was a once in a lifetime experience and we’re pleased to have been able to play a part in it.”