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FIVE players Sunderland should try their hardest to hold onto when they drop into League One

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We’re all expecting HUGE changes to be made to Sunderland’s playing squad this summer but there are a small handful of the current crop that’d come in more than handy next season in League One.

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George Honeyman

The diminutive midfielder has been a the definition of a marmite player for the Lads this season, but there’s no doubt in my eyes he’s been one of - if perhaps the only - the success stories of our current campaign.

The Prudhoe-born academy product has been largely consistent in his maiden season and, if nothing else, has never really let us down - yes, he’s had a poor game here and there but it’s worth remembering his inexperience and that he’ll have undoubtedly learned a lot from featuring so heavily this year.

Honeyman has chipped in with seven goals this term from midfield, which is more than the combined efforts of James Vaughan and Ashley Fletcher. He’s also played in a variety of positions across the midfield and more times than not, he’s looked capable of adapting to each role.

Chris Coleman said he’d love to be able to “bottle” the 23-year-old’s attitude only last month and with the club reaching it’s most difficult period ever, he’s most definitely the type of character we need at the club and in our squad.

West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Paddy McNair

The Northern Ireland international has struggled with injury since his move to the club back in August 2016, but there’s no doubt that when he’s in the starting line up that we look a better side.

Although he was seemingly more of a defensive-minded player when he was brought to the club, McNair has looked far more at home pushing forward and you have to wonder what might have been this season if we’d managed to keep him fit and in the side most weeks.

I’m sure he’ll have interest in the summer should we fall into League One, but at just twenty two and with plenty to prove on Wearside he might feel it’s best to stick around, get a full season under his belt and prove he’s good enough to get back into a top tier side by helping us to a promotion push.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Lynden Gooch

It’s been a funny old season for the USMNT international. He’s been in and out of the starting line-up, but there’s no doubt that he’s looked one of our most dangerous players over the Easter period, winning a penalty at Derby and setting up our equaliser against Sheffield Wednesday.

He’s been infuriatingly inconsistent and many will point to that, but it’s once again worth remembering that he’s still very much in his infancy as a professional footballer. His performance at Leeds was one of the best performances from any individual this campaign.

His attitude is unquestionable, proving his commitment to the cause by leaving everything on the pitch - and his likability is in the main due to that.

He’s now a full international for his country, and seems to be improving on his final ball the more he plays. He’s no soft touch either and he won’t be afraid to get his hands dirty amongst the rough and tumble of England’s third tier - however, it’s in his locker to get past his man, and taking all of this into account it would be fair to assume he’ll be a pretty big part of our plans going forward.

Derby County v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Joel Asoro

Hanging onto the Sweden U21 forward will be one of the toughest challenges that the club will face this summer should the inevitable come to pass.

Asoro has without a doubt been our most improved player since Chris Coleman took the reins as Sunderland manager in November, and has undoubtedly benefited from the increased amount of game time and exposure that has been afforded to him since Lewis Grabban and James Vaughan left the club in January.

The disappointment for us will be that with money tight he’s likely to move on in the summer, with his excellent form and undoubted potential surely alerting clubs further up the league ladder to his potential availability.

That said, you never know what could happen and whilst you’d imagine Asoro has ambitions to play at the top of the game, he is still just 18-year old and the chance to play regular competitive football at that age is not to be sniffed at.

Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Donald Love

Okay - so this might be seen as a bit of an odd choice, especially as he’s struggled to dislodge the utterly useless Billy Jones for the last two seasons, but hear me out.

With his gormless little face and his ability to make last ditch tackles, there’s something incredibly likable about Donald Love, despite the obvious flaws in his game. It’s worth noting that he is improving going forward to, with an exquisite pass for Paddy McNair’s opening at Leeds on Saturday.

In the eight matches he’s started this term we’ve managed to keep a clean sheet in three of them - including against promotion chasers Wolves and Fulham - whilst we have also managed to win three of those eight games.

He’s far from the finished article and is still rough around the edges, but with Billy Jones hopefully on his way out in the summer, I’d much rather we work with a young player that was once considered good enough to be in the Manchester United set up then plod on with what we’ve got at the minute.