There was a recurring theme on the Roker Report website yesterday as both the Fan Letters feature and indeed the Roker Rapport Podcast discussed whether Chris Coleman could perhaps afford some of the club’s brighter prospects a chance to prove their worth over the course of the remainder of the season.
Some fans suggest that with relegation all but certain, the Sunderland manager should look to blood some of the club’s younger players - especially if we are to rely on some of them next season in League One. Others state that throwing the youngsters into the fray now would be an admission of defeat that wouldn’t provide a positive atmosphere in which to help develop young talent.
Again, the club finds itself between a rock and a hard place. But moving forward, Coleman must be bold if we are to hit the ground running next season - even if that is in the third tier.
For the remainder of the season, the ex-Wales gaffer need not throw masses of young prospects into the trenches hoping that they come good. He could, however, begin to introduce one or two players to the side and surround them with more experienced heads.
Personally, I’m not too sure that throwing a goalkeeper into battle with so little in the way of defensive protection is a particularly shrewd move, but there are several players in certain positions that could potentially offer us something positive as we look to find a bright spark heading into the season’s final throes.
Elliot Embleton and Ethan Robson are both interesting midfield options, and could certainly be afforded time, either from the get-go or from the bench. Robson has looked solid if unspectacular in the majority of his outings (bar one poor performance), while Embleton clearly has something special about him - as his inclusion in the England international youth system from U17 through to U19 suggests.
Further up the field, young attacking midfielder Luke Molyneux looks to be a real gem. Regular U23 spectators will attest that this lad is special, and his mercurial talents could definitely be tested in the first-team set up in the coming weeks. I’ve not seen much of him myself, but his highlights remind me of a more fluid Allan Johnston.
The way in which he creates space and can open up his body in order to bend one in at the far post is superb. Despite recently returning from a nasty knee injury earlier this season, Molyneux really does look like a quality player, and should certainly be afforded a spot on the bench in the next few games.
Two goals vs Everton today ⚪️ pic.twitter.com/o54QHlT4q9— Luke Molyneux (@LukeMolyneux3) March 11, 2018
Of course, nobody is suggesting these lads will turn our fortunes around, in fact I’d wager most fans would be incredibly understanding should these young men struggle to make an immediate impact.
However, from this point forward we need to find these players some time in and around the first-team’s matchday squad. On the website we’ve already highlighted the club’s reluctance to loan out our young players and the negative impact this has on their development; subsequently, we should look to fast-track their development across the remainder of the current campaign.
Loaning in other club’s younger players really hasn’t served us well at all this campaign - is Ashley Fletcher really an upgrade on Josh Maja or Joel Asoro? Has Jonny Williams offered us enough on the pitch in terms of minutes and graft? Why have we persisted with mediocre players loaned in from other cubs when we have an academy full of hungry players sitting idly by?
It’s not just the loan signings that have been poor, though, so too have the majority of our more senior players. Could the youthful exuberance and desperation for success of out academy products not potentially act as a catalyst to lift the more senior pros who have struggled to lift the club?
One other final thought to consider is just how many of the current first-team will hang around should our impending relegation be realised? Take Bryan Oviedo for example, who has had a relatively impressive season for the club - will he stick around after another relegation? Would we even be able to afford to keep him?
The likes of young Denver Hume should be given experience, at least on the bench as part of the matchday squad in order to ease any potential need for him to make the step up to senior football next season. Perhaps we’d be able to bring in a solid left back to replace Oviedo should we fall prey to the Championship’s trapdoor? Then again, we spent less than £2 million on players this campaign, so I doubt we’d shell out on a replacement.
In all, Chris Coleman and Sunderland need to start thinking about the very real possibility of relegation from the Championship and what that would mean going forward. In turn, some of the club’s brightest prospects need to be given some game time in order to help expedite their development ahead of potentially being needed in the first-team next season.
Of course it’s a risk asking these young lads to produce the goods in such a precarious situation, but, if truth be told, we’re out of options and we need to start preparing for another difficult season.