Friday 18 October 2013
Sunderland will welcome Chelsea to Wearside on Saturday in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League, the side’s first game at the Stadium of Light this season, and for one local player a 16-year wait could be over.
Ross Holland, who was born in Birtley, nine miles from the Stadium of Light, has held a season ticket with Sunderland since he was three. Now 19, he still attends first-team matches with his father.
"It would be an absolute dream for me, if I can play, it would be great as a Sunderland fan," Holland said."I've never been on the pitch before so to play would be unbelievable."
"I've never been on the pitch before so to play there would be unbelievable"
Holland joined the Sunderland academy as an under-14 player and made his debut for the U18s while still at school. In the 2011-12 season, he played 22 times, scoring four goals and started in 20 U18 matches last season.
Although he is one of the youngest members of the U21 squad, Holland has gained valuable experience, appearing twice from the bench this seaso,n and he is staying patient about gaining the opportunity to make more appearances.
"I understand I've got to keep working hard and my chance will come," he said. "At the moment I'm one of the younger lads and it's not so easy to break in and play every week."
Kevin Ball's side are second on goal difference in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League, having lost only one of their opening seven matches. The run has included wins over Bolton Wanderers, Leicester City, Southampton, Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers and this has created a positive mood within the Academy, Holland says.
"Everyone gets on well," he said. "There's a good atmosphere in the changing room. We’re enjoying training and it's bringing us on a lot. We all keep working hard in training and working together."
The diverse midfielder, who impressed with his performances in the Barclays Under-18 Premier League last season, appreciates the privileged situation he finds himself in, providing support for his more senior team-mates wherever he can.
"I'm absolutely over the moon for the lads, when I've been sub I've been getting behind the team and urging them on as well," he said.
Sunderland v Chelsea in the Barclays U21 Premier League is at the Stadium of Light on Saturday 19 October, kick-off at midday. Entry is free for Sunderland season-card holders on presentation of a valid 2013-14 season card, tickets for non-season card holders are available on the day at £3 for adults and £1 for concessions.
7pm unless stated
Friday, 18 October
Fulham v Newcastle United, Craven Cottage
(Free for season-ticket holders Tickets on the day priced at £3 adults, £1 for concessions.)
Stoke City v Reading, Nantwich Town FC
Saturday, 19 October
Sunderland v Chelsea, Stadium Of Light, midday
Sunday, 20 October, 2013
West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool, The Hawthorns, 2pm
Monday, 21 October, 2013
Everton v Manchester United, Goodison Park
Norwich City v Middlesbrough, TBC, 2pm
Southampton v Blackburn Rovers, Staplewood Training Ground
Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City, TBC, 1pm
Wolverhampton Wanderers v West Ham United, AFC Telford United