RUSSELL Howarth may have to be content with a spot in the reserves at the moment, but the form of York City's highly-rated goalkeeper has not gone unnoticed.

Despite being kept out of the first team at Bootham Crescent by the irrepressible Alan Fettis, Howarth has earned a call-up to train with Sunderland to add to his inclusion in the England Under-20s squad.

Howarth, whose only first team appearance this season came in the 2-0 LDV Vans Trophy defeat by Notts County, has spent four days at the Stadium of Light.

The 19-year-old spent three days training alongside former Austrian U21s international Jurgen Macho with the club's goalkeeper coaches Peter Williams and Tim Carter, while on his final day he played for 45 minutes in a practice match against Huddersfield.

"The gaffer (Terry Dolan) asked if I would be interested in going up and training with them," said Howarth. "It was not a chance I was going to miss, so he arranged it for me.

"I trained on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then played in a practice match for 45 minutes against Huddersfield on Thursday."

The Black Cats, who had Danny Dichio in the side, won the match 4-0, with Howarth comfortably dealing everything Huddersfield threw at him.

He added: "I thought I did well. I had a gale force wind in my face, but I still kept a clean sheet."

After the match, the Riccall-based was released to go back to York, but with words of hope ringing in his ears.

"They said they would be in contact with the gaffer," he said. "The training was fine and I didn't feel out of place in the practice match, but whether anything comes of it all I don't know.

"My contract is up at the end of the year, so it all depends on the situation."

If Sunderland did come in with an offer, Howarth said he is more than willing to listen as he looks to achieve his aim of playing in the Premier League.

"My aim is to play there (in the Premier League), but I've got to be realistic," said Howarth. "I've set myself different targets, but if you look in the Premier League at the moment there are not many younger keepers, so I have to be patient."

Even if nothing comes from his trial at the Black Cats, Howarth feels he has learned some different ideas from the coaches and Macho.

"It is always nice to get a different point of view on things," he said. "Macho has played in the Premier League, which is where I want to play, so you can't help but learn off someone like that."

A spokeswoman for Sunderland said the club's policy was not to discuss potential transfer targets, but did confirm Howarth had a trial.

Dolan also confirmed the trial, which was part of the two-way between City and Sunderland, but added he had not heard anything since from the Black Cats.

Meanwhile, Howarth will fly down to Southampton on Sunday to team up with his England U20s colleagues to prepare for the clash against Portugal on Wednesday.

Howarth, who has represented England at U16s, U17s and U18s levels previously, is the only Division Three player in the squad.

Updated: 11:39 Thursday, November 15, 2001