New ownership, fresh talent, a progressive young manager, a renovated stadium, winning games, pushing for promotion - what a thoroughly optimistic start to the 2018/19 season.
However, one positive that has perhaps been somewhat overlook is the manner in which Sunderland’s coaching staff have helped develop young talent. Josh Maja and Lynden Gooch have been the breakthrough players, while George Honeyman has also continued his development from last season. Furthermore, Bali Mumba and Benji Kimpioka have shone in their brief showings, while Jake Hackett, Jack Bainbridge, and Jack Diamond among others have also shown their potential in the EFL Trophy.
That being said, Sunderland have a group of talented players that currently find themselves beyond the youth set-up, yet also not quite ready for first-team duties due to a number of reasons. The club have done a good job of managing them thus far, but what does the future hold for these young Sunderland stars?
Which of these players do you consider to be the most exciting young prospect?
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Max has been brilliant for us and he has a great future in the game, but he’s not been himself these last few weeks.
After a successful loan deal to Eastleigh ended in December, The Spitfire’s manager, Ben Strevens, was quick to praise the Polish stopper’s performances for the National League side.
A penalty save on debut and a player of the month award demonstrated Stryjek’s qualities, but homesickness coupled with loan rules prevented an extension to the young keeper’s successful stint away from the club.
Jack Ross noted recently that:
If we got to the end of the month and felt it was right for him to go out again we would do.
We will try and weigh it up while we are in the midst of all these games!
Stryjek could yet develop into a decent stopper, but has little chance of dethroning Sunderland’s current man between the sticks. Backup goalie Robbin Ruiter has been given his chance in cup competitions where he has impressed, so another loan higher up the league pyramid could well benefit the academy graduate who is contracted until December of this year.
After a brilliant start to the season, Denver Hume was unlucky to pick up a nasty knee injury that required surgery to fix.
Jack Ross admitted last week that the young full-back is still a month away from a return to training, and with his current deal expiring this summer, Hume will be hopeful that the club are still keen to press ahead with negotiations over a new contract.
Hume has had a couple of troublesome knee issues over the course of the last two seasons, but hopefully that isn’t a long-term issue for the energetic defender. It’s fair to say that Hume is likely in the first-team frame more so than other members of this list, so hopefully he can make a swift recovery and regain his form that propelled him into Jack Ross’s starting line-up.
After a decent showing towards the end of last season, fans were generally excited to see if Ethan Robson could secure a starting position in the middle of Sunderland’s midfield for this campaign. A troublesome ankle injury coupled with another setback has, however, dented the academy product’s chances of staking a claim for a starting berth.
Jack Ross has noted that the midfielder is about to resume training with the first-team after several disappointing injuries, and Robson has time on his side after signing a deal until 2020 this past summer.
Ross stated recently:
It’s frustrating because he did well in pre-season and then picked up an injury which knocked him down the pecking order a little bit, then when he came back and played against Carlisle it looked like he was taking his opportunity so to then find himself injured again has been disappointing.
But it doesn’t seem like Robson will be given a loan deal to aid his development, with Ross suggesting that Robson is still in his plans:
It’s my job to make sure he still remains upbeat and positive through this period, and then when he is back fit hopefully he will be back playing at that level he was at before this latest injury.
After being handed the chance to impress, @Ethan_robson8 made the most of his opportunity with this lovely strike.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) October 10, 2018
Check out who else caught the eye via our extended highlights https://t.co/Re73ZTliFi pic.twitter.com/ASgwGg4oyh
An incredibly gifted player, Elliot Embleton has a bright future ahead of him.
The young midfielder has extended his loan spell with Grimsby until the end of the season as Sunderland try to negotiate a new deal for the England youth international who has recently been nominated as a potential League Two player of the month. Talking about the youngster’s spell at Grimsby during the opening half of the season, Ross said:
I have been pleased with how he has done on his loan spell, he couldn’t have done any more in terms of why we put him out on loan and what he could get from it.
Upon the renewal of his loan deal with The Mariners, Embleton himself was happy to be able to continue playing first-team football for the League Two side:
It will be good to get more games and, hopefully, I can continue my good form. It was up in the air for a while back at Sunderland. I knew that I was going to be here until January, but we didn’t know what was going to happen beyond that.
In the end, we came to this decision and I’m really happy with that.
Sunderland will undoubtedly be keen to tie Embleton down to a new deal while he continues to impress at Blundell Park, and with his deal expiring this summer Sunderland will need to act swiftly and decisively in order to retain his talent.
| Here are the nominees for the PFA @BristolStMotors League Two Player of the Month…— PFA | Professional Footballers' Association (@PFA) January 10, 2019
@yates_jerry#PFAFansAward Who gets your vote? https://t.co/RCjKFAS6m5 pic.twitter.com/ZErDqgBr7M
Another talented academy product, Luke Molyneux is a tricky winger/inside forward with an absolute wand of a left peg. The twenty-year-old has also benefited from a loan move away to play first-team football where he impressed with Gateshead in the National League.
Jack Ross finds himself with a dilemma regarding what to do with Molyneux (and Benji Kimpioka), saying:
Luke’s 21 and we want to avoid players being here and not playing first-team football. I do believe some should have had first-team football before, such as Luke and Elliot.
We’ll assess Luke in the next couple of weeks and Kimpioka falls into that category too. He’s younger, but I do feel getting games at his age is important for him. But I’m reluctant to do it too early we may still need to use him more in the first team.
The model is to try and give much more game-time to these players than they’ve maybe had before.
If truth be told, Sunderland could do with another winger capable of shaking things up. Lynden Gooch has struggled recently, whilst Chris Maguire has been tasked with playing more centrally in recent games. Molyneux and Kimpioka could well be given a chance to impress from the bench in coming weeks - and both would do well to take that opportunity with both hands.
Molyneux is another whose deal expires this summer, but he will likely be offered a new contract after his impressive displays for The Heed during the opening half of this season.
⚽ ️GOAL OF THE MONTH: Here are our two nominees for goal of the month for December 2018. They both came in the same match too!— Gateshead FC (@GatesheadFC) December 31, 2018
Goal A - @LukeMolyneux3 v Maidstone
Goal B - @t16nky v Maidstone pic.twitter.com/8jkLgHc2sY
The powerful forward has been unstoppable recently as he bagged 6 goals and 2 assists for Darlington during a short five-game loan deal.
The Stockton-born forward impressed last season when on-loan at Falkirk, but The Bairns aren’t confident of bringing the powerful forward north of the border this January - especially after Nelson’s impressive showings for Darlington in the National League North.
Barnsley and several other clubs have been credited by the press with an interest in the young forward, who looks ready to either challenge for a role in Sunderland’s first-team squad, or complete a loan move to a side higher up the footballing pyramid than Darlington.
Should Josh Maja’s situation lead to a sale, however, then Jack Ross could well be tempted to keep the forward on Wearside to provide another option up top.
Andrew Nelson has returned to Sunderland at the end of his month loan.— Darlington FC (@Official_Darlo) January 9, 2019
Nelson has been a huge success scoring six goals in five games. We all would like to wish him the best in the future @andynelson_ @SunderlandAFC pic.twitter.com/LidojWktZv