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Sunderland: The Next Generation

Even the blind will have noticed Sunderlnad have relied heavily on youth this season, and most if not all of them have acquitted themselves very well indeed.

With the likes of Jordan Henderson & Jack Colback blazing a trail for the youths to see just what can be achieved - and show that they will be given the chance if good enough, there's certainly hope for the next generation.

However, some may be wondering just who are they, what is their potential, and indeed are they any good? Well hopefully this little synopsis will help guide you, as I aim to give you some more background on Sunderland's top youth prospects, who have flirted with the fringe of the first team in recent months...

Ben Wilson - Goalkeeper

There's many similarities to Craig Gordon when you watch young Ben Wilson in action. He's tall, lean, and the way he commands the box is very similar to Gordon. Not only that, but he is an excellent shot-stopper, and has suffered his share of injuries.

Ben, in my eyes, should become the third choice keeper next season ahead of Trevor Carson, who he already looks better than in game situations. A full season of reserve team football next season will bring his game on leaps and bounds, and the kid has some exceptional talent. It's rumored he chose Sunderland over Celtic and Manchester City

Blair Adams - Left Back

We've seen Adams on the bench a few times this season, although he is yet to make a first team appearance. An attacking left-back, who can also fill in at left midfield. Think more Michael Gray than Ashely Cole mind.

The 19-year-old from South Shields definitely needs some first team action soon, and a loan to the lower leagues for the entirity of next season will do him the world of good, much better than persisting in the reserve team, where he has played a massive humber of games this season.

Will he make it at SAFC? He has a chance, but needs to get more savvy to the rigours of first team football first.

Louis Laing - Centre Back

Louis Laing, not to be confused with Supermans better half, is easily the most talented of all the defensive prospects at the club. A regular in the U18 team since the age of 15, the lanky defender has also captianed England at U16 level, and recently made the step up to the England U17/U19 level and reserve team football with ease.

Laing is not your bullish, bruising centre back, more of a ball player. That's not to say he isn't strong in the tackle, he certainly is, but his best attribute is without doubt his distribution. Calm and composed beyond his years, his future development rests on one thing - whether or not he bulks up a bit, as he his very slight. For that reason alone, I'd keep him at Sunderland for another year as opposed to loaning him out, to allow him to develop physically. A top prospect.

Liam Noble - Centre Midfield

Liam was on the bench once upon a time ago against Chelsea away. Since then we've seen very little of him, and he has been loaned out to Carlisle United, where this season he has made himself a first team regular.

An energetic midfielder, Steve Bruce has praised the youngster for his form, and believes in his talent, and like me agrees that he could do with another loan after this one. Carlisle are keen to sign him permanently.

Sadly for Noble, there are many players ahead of him in middle of the park and although I hope his loan goes well, I can't see him carving out a future at SAFC any time soon.

Adam Reed - Left Midfield/Centre Midfield

Reed has had a couple of afternoons on the bench as an unused substitute this season, before being loaned out to Brentford in January.

The youngster is certainly one of the most physically ready for first team football, and has carved out a role for himself at Brentford, and has won rave reviews from the fans down at Griffin Park. Much like Jordan Henderson, his best position seems to be out wide, whilst he has ideas on playing in the middle, and much like Hendo, I see him more as a wide player.

He's got a good cross on him, and is always getting forward, I can see him challenging for more games at Sunderland next season, but a loan to a higher level like The Championship wouldn't do him any harm either.

One to watch for sure, even if only to see if he does make it.

Billy Knott - Centre Midfield

The great white hope for Sunderland, and almost guaranteed to be the next one off the production line. Well sort of our production line, as Knott was booted out of Chelsea as a youngster, and with his pick of teams, we're thankful he chose us.

Knott was highly rated at Chelsea, training with the first team at the age of 14, and rumored to be rated higher at the time than Chelsea's own youth star Josh McEachran, and anyone who has seen him this season will know exactly why.

He can run games from the midfield. Energetic, attacking, creative and an eye for goal, not to mention he looks physically ready for the Premier League. I'd bet my bottom dollar that he makes a token first team appearance before the end of this season, and certainly will warrant inclusion in the matchday 18 next season.

If Knott continues to flourish as we all expect, he could save Steve Bruce alot of money as our midfield becomes revamped next season. Knott is the outstanding talent at the club right now.

Jordan Cook - Left Midfielder/Striker

Cook made his debut this season away at Manchester United, and looked quite handy cutting in from the left hand side.

More of a wide striker in a front three than an out and out striker, and currently on loan away at Walsall, where he also recently bagged his first senior goal.

To make the next step, he certainly needs more games, and Walsall will be a good platform for him, although I can see him going the same way as Liam Noble. Perhaps just too crowded in that position at the club, and may eventually have to carve out a career elsewhere.

Ryan Noble - Striker

Noble remains an enigma to me. At times you think he's the second coming of Michael Bridges. Built like 'Stickman' but an natural goalscorer at every level for club and country, so he must have something. Then at other times I think he could well just be another Martyn Waghorn, Craig Russell, hell, even David Rush. The young lad we all want to make it, but simply won't set the world alight the way we all expect.

That's not to say he isn't talented, or has no chance at all. All those strikers mentioned carved out good careers for themselves, and despite not playing much in two previous loan spells at Derby County and Watford, he will have learned a few tricks of the trade in training somewhere new.

Noble has made a few first team appearances, and looks decent. He certainly offers something different to any striker at the club at the moment, however I can't help but feel right now IS his moment, especially with our striking problems, Noble should ba banging down Steve Bruce's door demanding a chance to show what he can do in the remaining games this season.

I wish the lad all the best, and hope he develops into a fine player at SAFC - Now is his time to prove he can.

Craig Lynch - Striker

Craig was well down the pecking order until a few months ago at Sunderland, only to find himself thrust on to the bench a few times recently. Mainly due to a rich vein of form in the reserve and youth teams which saw the striker at one point net 9 goals in 10 games.

Regarded as a quiet man and a late bloomer by reserve team manager Keith Bertschin, the Sunderland management are tipping him for big things, saying his recent improvements have been "nothing short of sensational."

Lynch is a taller striker than Noble, although not a target man at all. He shares the same slight frame that most the youngsters do, but his physical growth has been fantastic in recent months, and the lad is sure to get stronger and better.

To get the best of Lynch, I'd keep him at Sunderland for next season to become a reserve team regular. I'm not sure he's up to the rigors of lower league football just yet. That could come in a loan around January 2011.

The Best Of The Rest

There's some other handy looking, (even) younger players on the books too. The likes of John Egan, an Irish youth international, equally adept at left back and centre back. Matthew Fletcher is a tall striker signed last year from Australia, who could in a few years, with the right coaching become the target man we have been looking for, where as there is also Oumare Tounkara, currently on loan at Oldham also battling for that role. Two others to keep an eye on are England U17 keeper Jordan Pickford, and attacking midfielder-come-striker Jordan Laidler.

The future at Sunderland is brighter than it has ever been, and full credit goes to the coaching staff headed by Kevin Ball and Ged MacNamee.