Behind door number #4 is... Rees Greenwood!
One of the more well-established products from our academy is young winger Rees Greenwood, a player now of the age where he needs to be playing regular first-team football.
The 21-year-old has been at the club since the age of eight and made his first-team debut on the final game of the season at Watford in 2016, days after Sam Allardyce had masterminded our escape from the drop where we subsequently relegated our rivals Newcastle United.
If it seems like a long time ago to you then spare a thought for Greenwood who, as a victim of the constant churn of managers in that period of time, has not appeared for the first team since.
With survival guaranteed, our former manager Allardyce plumped for shaking-up his starting eleven and gave roles to academy graduates Tom Robson, Jordan Pickford and Duncan Watmore alongside the talented Winlaton-born winger.
Greenwood, who was then aged 20, received glowing praise from Big Sam after he played a significant part in the opening goal which was scored by Jack Rodwell.
Before being replaced by George Honeyman on 52 minutes, Greenwood enjoyed a decent display, showing his trickery on the ball, and coming out of the game it was he that perhaps received the most praise ahead of the rest of his young teammates.
Speaking after the game, Allardyce noted:
We know what Dunc (Watmore) can do, and Pickford, but I think that of Rees and George Honeyman, Rees was probably the better of the two today.
Whilst first-team opportunities have not fallen Greenwood’s way since that day, the left-winger’s recent form perhaps suggests that he could yet become part of Chris Coleman’s plans, particularly after he bagged a brace in an impressive 3-0 win over Hull City U23s last Thursday.
Greenwood is a tricky winger who loves to get at his man in a 1v1 situation - I’d suggest that, on his day, he’s exactly the type of player that the Wearside faithful love to watch.
The whole club was rocked by the departure of Allardyce, and the likes of Greenwood and Tom Robson have since suffered without the support of the man who first showed faith in them.
With another relegation battle immediately on the horizon once the appointment of David Moyes was confirmed, the youngsters were largely ignored by the former Everton boss, who instead preferred to put faith in the likes of Fabio Borini and Adnan Januzaj - players who quite clearly didn’t care too much about playing for this club.
Whilst the first team eventually succumbed to a pitiful relegation, an evidently frustrated Greenwood continued to perform in the Premier League 2 for our U23s side, contributing four assists and a couple of goals in just 18 appearances. He also gained further exposure to more competitive football with three starts in the newly-formed Checkatrade Trophy, where he looked one of the young Black Cats’ best players.
Returning to the first team fold in pre-season, he managed to set up Jeremain Lens for his goal in Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial at Hibernian’s Easter Road, before picking up a knock which ruled him out of the majority of new manager Simon Grayson’s pre-season games.
Despite the set backs, Greenwood continued his improving form into this season, and one particular highlight was scoring an absolute scorcher in August’s 3-1 Checkatrade Trophy defeat at Scunthorpe United (which can be viewed in the video below).
With money tight for new boss Chris Coleman he would be naive to ignore the academy talent that he has at his disposal.
When you look at the likes of Jordan Pickford, Duncan Watmore and George Honeyman - players that, despite arriving on the scene with very little fanfare, all made a smooth transition from the U23s setup to the first team squad - it’s easy to see that taking the occasional gamble on a player like Greenwood could pay off if you afford them the chance to show you what they are capable of on a grander stage.
With Joel Asoro just starting to make his mark, and with Duncan Watmore on the treatment table, now is as good a time as Greenwood will get in order to impress the manager of the first team.
He has to make an increased effort to showcase his ability because, if he does, he could well find himself featuring as part of Coleman’s plans between now and the January transfer window opening - and I’m sure that we’d all love nothing more than to see a promising local youngster making an impact as part of our senior side.