Robbie Stockdale says Sunderland are taking the Checkatrade Trophy “very seriously” after making it through to the knockout stages.
Sunderland Under-23s – boosted by Vito Mannone, Seb Larsson, Donald Love and Jason Denayer – beat League Two club Notts County to finish runners-up in Northern Group F.
It seals their safe passage to the knockout stages of the competition.
And first-team coach Stockdale, who led the side with manager David Moyes in the stands at the Stadium of Light, was delighted with the win.
Adam Campbell put County ahead after 49 minutes, but a late rescue act inspired by sub Josh Maja, who levelled six minutes from time, and a 90th minute Haydn Hollis own goal saw Sunderland through.
Stockdale was pleased with the victory, with the added bonus of Mannone and Larsson both completing 90 minutes on their way back to full fitness after injury.
“It is a proper competition for us – we are treating this as so. We are treating it very seriously,” said Stockdale.
“I was really pleased for Vito on his first game back. He will feel great for playing that, I’m sure.
“Vito coming back and the other seniors too is good news, Seb played the full game, Donald, I thought, was good in different positions and Jason, in midfield, was something we wanted to look at.
“He did fine in there.
“It can only be good news for the first team. That is the advantage of playing the five over-age players although Jason isn’t. He is still only 21 himself.
“It ticks loads of boxes for our club, this competition. I understand what other clubs think of it, but we are really pleased with how it went.”
Larsson, making his comeback from knee surgery in the summer, played the full 90 minutes and he provided the cross that was deflected in by Hollis for the winner.
Stockdale added: “It was down to myself and him how long he played. If at any point we thought enough was enough he would have come off.
“He finished the game strongly. It is great that he got 90 minutes into him and hopefully he will have no side effects and will be good to go in training.”
The draw for the next round of the competition is due to take place on Thursday morning. Sunderland will be away as they finished as runners-up in the group.
The final of the revamped competition will be staged at Wembley and Stockdale says it is a great experience for the younger players.
He added: “Something not too far away would be nice in the next round!
“This is the closest these players will get at this stage of their development to knockout football.
“They play other cup competitions, but that is against other development squads.
“As we go through the rounds, it will become more important for the senior teams we play against.
“It is knockout football now, one-off games, the next game we play – hopefully there will be more – will be against a strong team.”