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"Get Them On The Plane!" Which (If Any) Of Our Young Players Should Go To Portugal?

Gus Poyet has given the players from our under 21's squad the opportunity to showcase their ability in the friendlies this week against Darlington, Carlisle and Hartlepool and collectively they've done much to show both the fans and the management that they could well have something to give over the rest of our pre-season campaign. Just who from that group has impressed enough to earn their space on the plane, though?

Richard Sellers

George Honeyman

From a very young age there has been much expected of George at Sunderland, having shone at every age group he's played at since joining the club as a ten year old.

I remember seeing him break through into the U21's squad a couple of seasons ago and being instantly impressed by his ability and strength when on the ball despite being marginally smaller than almost everyone on the pitch. In an era when we are constantly told that smaller players struggle to break through and impress, especially in England, Honeyman has been earmarked as one of the more promising talents we have in our youth ranks for a number of years now. He was linked with loan moves to SPL sides in January but the decision was made to keep him with Kevin Ball in the development squad.

George was asked to step in to the senior squad at last minute on Saturday when Adam Johnson wasn't passed as fit to start in the Darlington game. Immediately I was impressed with the way he seamlessly slotted straight into the side, on the right of midfield, and he played his part in two of the goals. He didn't look deterred playing on an elevated stage alongside his first team counterparts.

Against Carlisle his introduction on the hour mark was electric. Immediately he got on the ball and was looking to feed in Mandron with some intelligent passes in behind their tiring defence. He again showed himself to be unafraid of playing in front of Gus Poyet, causing constant problems for Carlisle throughout the thirty minutes he was on the pitch. The kid has just got something.

Look, I'm aware that these young kids have been waiting years for an opportunity like this and understandably performance levels will have increased, but you can't help but be impressed by Honeyman's ability. Going forward he'll hopefully get a loan move to a Championship side, but he deserves to be on that plane to Portugal.

Scott Harrison

Anyone that follows my tweets after reserve games might have noted I have a soft spot for Scott Harrison. I first saw him play alongside Kader Mangane for a string of games in the development side last year and he shone massively ahead of his partner at the back, who Martin O'Neill signed to provide cover and competition for the first team defenders in the January transfer window. What immediately struck me is that despite being rugged in appearance he's got a calmness on the ball and is deceptively quick.

For some reason Scott never played a part in either of the Darlington or Carlisle games but he did come on last night at Hartlepool, a club he spent a spell on loan at last season - 'Pools fan and SkySports presenter Jeff Stelling was very complimentary of Harrison in his blog towards the end of last season - and I thought he looked superb against a tricky forward line. He was comfortable and assured and we looked far steadier with him at the back as opposed to the hour Valentin Roberge was on the pitch, where he spent the whole of the first half being dragged about by Marlon Harewood.

I say give the lad a shot over there. We can do far worse. The way that I see it is that Diakite's days as a Sunderland player are numbered and there is little value in giving him game time in Portugal. I'd rather we see more of Scott Harrison, perhaps alongside O'Shea or Brown, and see how he performs. What have we got to lose?

Mika Mandron

Mika, a towering yet elegant forward, has been tagged as the next big thing to break out of our academy for a couple of years now and in his breakthrough season as a scholar it was hoped that his development would continue to progress rapidly, which he seems to have done having featured in a couple of games towards the end of the 2012/2013 season along with a fairly successful spell on loan at Fleetwood Town.

Now that Nacho Scocco has left the club and Danny Graham has been nowhere near the squad for any of our pre-season games thus far we have spots up for grabs in that department.

Against Carlisle, Mandron was introduced after sixty minutes and was the focal point for all of our attacks. There is a clear understanding between Mika and the attacking players around him and everything came into his feet - he held up the ball magnificently and his good performance was rewarded with a well taken goal, a left footed strike across the keeper that went on to win us the match.

Last night, against Hartlepool, he was again at the centre of everything upon entering the fray. He's very raw, and has much to learn, but he's got a load of talent.

Much like Harrison I'd be keen to take him along for the ride and give him a chance in the final throws of a few of the games out in Albufeira to see how he reacts to playing alongside the more senior players. If he impresses, it may encourage one or two of the Championship clubs to make loan offers which, over the coming season, would be the best move for Mika as he needs to gain that all important experience of playing in a competitive league.

David Ferguson & Tom Robson

If we had to name a side to play in a Premier League game today we'd be able to name a fairly strong side - but there is a huge hole left by the departures of Marcos Alonso and Andrea Dossena. We need a left back.

How the deal to bring back Marcos Alonso on a permanent basis is progressing is anyone's guess. In the mean time we have to assume that we have nobody in the senior squad to play that role. Billy Jones has featured there against Darlington and Carlisle but that's only because we have had little other choice.

With that, and the season ahead, in mind Gus has some tough decisions to make. Does he persist with playing Jones there out in Portugal? Is it really beneficial playing him there, when you're trying to establish your tactics to a new player?

David Ferguson and Tom Robson came through the youth setup at Darlington - Fergie even played a number of games for the first team there - both coming across to Sunderland when Craig Liddle joined our academy staff upon the demise of the former Darlington FC and their youth setup. Robson is obviously very highly thought of - the club were pushed into giving him a longer contract last month when Fulham attempted to sign him - and he's been allowed to play his part in the friendlies over the last couple of days. Ferguson started the second half at Darlington and played in the opening sixty minutes of the tie last night at Victoria Park.

I say we take both youngsters along for the ride and give both lads their chance to show they can be of worth to the first team. Whilst we are fairly certain (I hope) to sign a left back at some point in this transfer window we still now have an opportunity to allow both of these players the chance to show they are more than capable of providing backup to whoever we bring in, Alonso or otherwise, in the coming weeks.

What do you think? Should we be looking at our younger players further as our pre-season programme progresses? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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