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Fab Five: Best Young Players Who've Broken Through At Sunderland

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Looking back over the course of the last 25 years or so, we select the best youngsters to have made the leap from the youth set-up into the first-team at Sunderland. Who would make it into your top 5?

Jordan Henderson during his Sunderland days
Jordan Henderson during his Sunderland days
Chris Brunskill

5. Kieron Brady

Glasgow-born Kieron Brady was destined for greatness until injury brought an end to his career prematurely at the age of 22.

An incredibly talented left-winger, Brady is best remembered for a sublime performance in the 4-3 win over West Ham United at Roker Park in March 1990, which included a wonderful overhead kick from the skilful starlet.

The Republic of Ireland under-21 international was forced to quit the game due to a vascular problem in his right foot having made just 40 appearances for the club.

4. Jordan Henderson

Sunderland lad Jordan Henderson rose through the ranks of the club's academy thanks to a relentless work ethic and fierce determination to make it at the top level which allowed him to stand out above his peers.

Given his debut in 2008, the midfielder really made his mark under the tutelage of Steve Bruce when claiming a regular spot on the right-hand side during the 2009-10 season.

He made such an impression with his strong running and passing ability that Merseyside giants Liverpool happily parted with £16millon to take him to Anfield in the summer of 2011.

Despite an inauspicious start at his new club, Henderson became a regular choice alongside Reds legend Steven Gerrard in the middle of the park and is now one of the first names on Roy Hodgson's England team-sheet.

3. Michael Bridges

North Tynesider Michael Bridges broke through at Roker Park during the 1995-96 season, with a double against Huddersfield Town after coming on as a substitute confirming his vast potential.

He was unearthed by the same scout who came across Alan Shearer and was widely backed to make it big for both club and country.

Great in the air, fleet of foot and full of tricks, the lithe forward found his route into the starting line-up barred by Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn at Sunderland and eventually moved on to Leeds United for around £5million.

A fabulous return of 19 Premier League goals in his first campaign at Elland Road had Bridges touted for full international honours, but a serious knee problem curtailed his progress.

The striker returned after years of injury hell, but was never the same player. Still, he enjoyed a short-lived return to Sunderland in amongst spells with the likes of Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers, Carlisle United and Hull City prior to a move to Australia where he still resides.

2. Martin Smith

Another local boy Martin Smith burst on the scene with a fabulous free-kick on his debut at Roker Park against Luton Town in 1993 and went on to make over 100 appearances in the famous red-and-white stripes.

Smith's versatility meant he could be utilised up-front, on either flank or in central midfield and his dazzling ability on the ball was second-to-none.

The ex-Monkwearmouth School pupil was undoubtedly one of the most technically gifted footballers to ply his trade on Wearside and he's fondly remembered for helping to pull Sunderland out of the relegation mire shortly after Peter Reid's arrival amongst other feats.

He went on to play for Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town and Northampton Town, showing his silky skills in making significant impacts at all three clubs before returning to the north-east with Darlington.

There's absolutely no doubting Smith's abundant talent, but just a little more luck with injuries and improved dedication could've led to even greater success for him.

1. Michael Gray

Castletown product Michael Gray started his youth career alongside a burgeoning Ryan Giggs at Manchester United, but soon realised his chances of progression were limited at Old Trafford and moved back home on apprentice forms with Sunderland.

A couple of years after returning to his hometown club, Gray established himself in the first-team during the 1992-93 campaign. Mainly playing on the wing, he went on to help the Rokermen gain promotion to the Premier League in 1996 before eventually settling at left-back a year later.

He'll always be remembered for THAT penalty miss at Wembley in one of the most dramatic play-off finals in history, but bounced back from that disappointment to complete more than a decade of service in becoming a proven Premier League performer.

Furthermore, former Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan handed the marauding full-back three England caps in 1999 as recognition of his excellent displays at domestic level.

Gray's 410 games in all competitions placed him in ninth position on the all-time appearances list prior to leaving for spells with Celtic (loan), Blackburn Rovers, Leeds United (loan), Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday.

Have we missed any of your favourites off the list? Use the comment form below or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter to let us know who'd make your top-five from the last 25 years!