Donald Love has laid down a marker for a return to the Sunderland side – in midfield.
The 21-year-old struck a second-half winner for the Black Cats U23 side in last night’s Checkatrade Trophy 1-0 success at Hartlepool United.
We know his history at Man United, he played a lot there too.
Love, who played the first three Premier League matches of the season at right-back, was picked by first-team coach Robbie Stockdale in the centre of the park for the derby with the League Two side.
And, watched by manager David Moyes at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium, the summer signing from Manchester United not only produced an assured display, he grabbed the 64th-minute winner with a cool finish into the keeper’s bottom corner.
Given Sunderland’s injury concerns in the engine room - Jan Kirchhoff joined Lee Cattermole on the sidelines when he damaged his hamstring in the 1-1 home draw with West Brom on Saturday, the emergence of Love as a contender could be a promising moment at a difficult time.
And on a day Kirchhoff when was ruled out for six to eight weeks, Stockdale admitted Love’s appearance in midfield at the Vic was not a complete coincidence.
“That was a bit of the thinking, to have a look at him there,” he said.
“He came on at Southampton in that position.
“We know his history at Man United, he played a lot there too.
“Certainly it’s another option for us to have in there, I thought he did very well, his passing was good and crisp.
“I also thought his presence off the ball was very positive for the team.”
Love has clearly ticked a box or two to the watching management team.
They will have been encouraged too by the performance of Billy Jones, while Mika, as predicted in yesterday’s Echo, was given his first taste of action.
Jones, who led the side against Pools, was given his first run-out of the season after recovering from hip rouble which flared up on the pre-season stay in France.
The right-back got forward well and almost got on the scoresheet as he proved his fitness for a potential Premier return.
Mika, another of the over-age players on show, was hardly extended but Stockdale said it was good to get him a “proper” game.
“Billy did very well at right-back and Mika too, so the three senior players will all be the better for having played 90 minutes,” added the coach.
“That’s the advantage of having a proper game at a real stadium against opposition that is going to test them.”
Sunderland’s victory at the Vic has put them second in the table behind leaders Rochdale.
Dale top the group on five points, one ahead of Sunderlandwho must avoid defeat against Notts County (four) in their last match next month to advance into the knock-out stage.
“We’ve said all the way through we want to go as far as we can in it,” said Stockdale. “That’s our aim, we’re treating it very seriously.”
Hartlepool: Bartlett, Richards, Harrison, Martin, Pollock, Laurent (Green 68), Featherstone, Hawkins (Walker 7), Fewster (Orrell 25), Paynter, Heardman. Subs Not Used: Deverdics, Blackford, Dudzinski, Richardson. Booked: Featherstone.
Sunderland U23: Mika, Jones, Ledger (Lawson 53), Beadling, Tom Robson, Honeyman, Love, Ethan Robson, Greenwood (Molyneux 85), Maja, Brady. Subs Not Used: Casey, Max Stryjek, Wright, Josh Robson, Pybus. Goals: Love 63.
Att: 1,295 Ref: John Brooks