Sometimes when there is an opportunity there to be taken, you must grab it with both hands and make this most of it - and that’s exactly what young Sunderland striker Andrew Nelson is doing whilst out on loan at Scottish Championship side Falkirk.
Nelson - who hails from Bishop Auckland - has had a small handful of loan stints away from the club over the last year or so but none of them have gone quite as well for him as his spell with Paul Hartley’s side, who also took former Sunderland left back Thomas Robson on board in January following his release on a free transfer.
Despite early promise at Hartlepool United last year a bad knee injury cut short his loan with the then League Two club, and then a short spell with Harrogate Town offered the youngster some much-needed first team experience with the current Conference North leaders.
Although Nelson was performing admirably as part of Sunderland’s U23s side prior to leaving, there’s nothing quite like ‘proper’ football - something that the powerful forward will have undoubtedly learned in his stint away from the pressures of a club soaked in the stench of impending relegation and fiscal insecurity.
The Scottish leagues have been shown to be a perfect proving ground for budding young players looking to make their way in the game over many years, and irregardless of how Nelson’s spell with the Bairns goes from here it will undoubtedly go some way to making him a better, more experienced forward.
The rough-and-tumble of going up against some rugged, tough defenders is enough to teach any aspiring footballer more about themselves, never mind one that plays at centre forward.
That said, I can’t profess to knowing exactly how Nelson is doing with Falkirk, nor could I pass opinion on his performances or the potential for him coming back to Sunderland and making up part of our first team squad next season.
With that in mind I spoke to a couple of bods that do - David Oliver (writer for the Falkirk Herald) and Bairns fan page FFCSupporters very kindly offered up their thoughts on how the young striker is coping 150 miles north of home.
On how Nelson is doing...
David Oliver: I am a fan. He’s strong and enthusiastic and a real handful for defenders. He has come on leaps and bounds since he arrived at the turn of the year, but his enthusiasm hasn’t waned. He’s got a couple of goals to his name - his strike on Saturday was a cracker and he was so unlucky not to get a second. He’s also formed a good link with Alex Jakubiak up front.
@FFCSupporters: He’s doing well, especially considering that this is his first taste of real competitive football at a decent level. He is physical, moves defenders about and got the man of the match award on Saturday in our game Morton.
On how the fans view him...
David Oliver: He has his own song, so that tells you something. He’s definitely appreciated. They were supportive of him even when he was struggling to score, and have written his name into the ‘Reach Up’ tune by Perfecto All-stars. He gives his all and doesn’t back out of challenges and that’s appreciated by the fans, and most likely by the management too.
@FFCSupporters: The support has taken to him well along with Tommy Robson (who Sunderland released). They appreciate players who give everything and he looks like he is responding well to the encouragement the fans are giving him.
On whether he could play in the Championship...
David Oliver: Right now no. But with a few more games under his belt maybe. He’s learned a lot since coming to Falkirk and improved a lot and we’re only halfway through his loan. If he improves at the same rate he’ll be an option for Chris Coleman. He’s a strong powerful runner and not knocked around easily, and that’s valuable. If Coleman doesn’t want him I’d be pleased to see him back at Falkirk again next season, for sure.
@FFCSupporters: I am not sure if he could at that level to be honest, but he is young and seems hungry. He is not the tallest and that could count against him. At our level we would be happy to have him though.
On whether Falkirk might want to keep him...
David Oliver: As I said I’d love him to come back after his initial loan, but I think the fact Sunderland signed him up to a new contract shows they think there’s something there. However, moulding his game again up here with another stint might help his flourish even more.
@FFCSupporters: I would think another year at Falkirk would help his development. He is learning about the game and the demands of supporters now. He has already played at Ibrox in front of 35,000 fans and that experience must be good for him.
On what he brings to the team...
David Oliver: He’s a powerful runner, enthusiastic and doesn’t give defenders an easy time. He’s all action. He has since honed his runs and began to look part of a fairly decent team unit and he is looking the part. His first action for Falkirk was in a fairly heated derby with Dunfermline and he chased a ball into the box and challenged the keeper in the air and knocked him down. That went down well. ever since he’s been very competitive, even when he’s not been scoring, he’s been mucking in and working hard.
@FFCSupporters: He works the defenders really hard. He holds the ball up well, can run into the channels and has a terrific shot. He has only scored twice but he has come into a team that was low in confidence and made a huge impact in making us more dangerous as a team. His movement creates space for everyone around him.
And, to round off...
David Oliver: He’s a good lad off the park as well. He seems to have his head screwed on the right way and has a good attitude. Having Tommy Robson, another ex-Sunderland player with him has certainly helped him settle in too and here’s hoping for more goals for Falkirk for him.
@FFCSupporters: “Nelly” has become very popular with the fans in a short period of time and if attitude alone gets you success in the game then he will make a good career for himself.