As we creep closer towards the January transfer window - where Sunderland are certain to have several incomings and outgoings - it is time to look at how our loan players are performing away from the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland currently have five players away out on loan: Ethan Robson, Jack Baldwin, Jack Diamond, Jordan Hunter and Jake Hackett. All five moved in search of regular first-team football further down the English football pyramid. Are any of them ready to return in January and stake a claim for a starting place in Phil Parkinson’s team?
The loan system has proved to be a highly effective method in developing players, as notable recent Sunderland academy graduates Jordan Pickford, Jordan Henderson, Martyn Waghorn, George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch all spent time away at other clubs.
With that in mind, I spoke to a fan from each loan club in order to find out their opinions of how each player has performed for their clubs so far this season.
Ethan Robson - Grimsby Town (League Two)
The case of Ethan Robson leaves many Sunderland fans with feelings of intense frustration. He is a player who possesses evident talent, but long-term injuries have plagued his chances of remaining in the first-team.
Many argue Robson has the athleticism, range of passing and bite to succeed at Sunderland, the only thing he needs is a consistent run in the first-team. Currently, Sunderland possess similar defensive minded options in central midfield, an area that needs changing as players such as Grant Leadbitter, Dylan McGeouch and Max Power have all struggled for consistency.
The North-East born midfielder broke into the team under Chris Coleman but was dropped for more experienced options. Robson was meant to start last season’s opening fixture against Charlton, but injuries meant he did not make a single League One appearance last season. Since that point he has impressed during a loan spell at Dundee, playing regularly alongside ex Sunderland forward Andrew Nelson.
This season he has proven at Grimsby that he can perform when provided the chance, scoring an impressive brace in a victory over Exeter. Do we need to sign a new central midfielder or do we have one on our books ready to step up in January?
Grismby fan Simon Stephenson said:
Since the win at high flying Exeter - where Ethan scored a brace - Grimsby haven’t won in 9 attempts in all competitions. Ethan missed 3 of those games after being ill.
Performances haven’t been great from Ethan, or in-fact the whole team.
As from the last report, there is quality in Ethan but confidence seems low through the whole team and things just don’t seem to be working at the moment.
The manager, Micheal Jolley, left the club by mutual consent last week after poor performances and after audio was leaked of the manager having an explicit rant to the local media. Grimsby are in the hunt for a new manager, and Ethan’s loan from Sunderland finishes in January. Ethan and the other Grimsby players could possibly be playing for their future at the club with a new manager around the corner.
Jack Baldwin - Salford City (League Two)
Next we have the bizarre case of Jack Baldwin, a player who for periods of last season was arguably our best defender. The definitive blow for Baldwin was that when it rained on him it poured relentlessly - our 5-4 defeat against Coventry placed a fatal nail into his Sunderland career after several calamitous errors.
His sole Sunderland appearance this season came in our away triumph over Burnley in the Carabao Cup. Many were surprised to see Baldwin depart ahead of inconsistent duo Tom Flanagan and Alim Ozturk, but the former Peterborough defender shunned interest from Bolton and Mansfield to join Salford on loan.
The most frustrating part of Baldwin’s demise is that he was part of a minority of players who Sunderland paid money for in the Donald era - profiting from the centre-back is an almost impossible prospect.
Moving forward, Baldwin’s contract is up in July 2020 meaning it is likely he will be moved on in January for a minimal fee, or released upon the completion of his loan spell - unless Phil Parkinson makes a surprise U-turn.
Salford City fan Andy Broughton said:
I was buzzing when we signed Jack Baldwin as he is a quality centre back, but unfortunately he has only played a couple of times due to injury. He returned from injury during a behind close doors match a couple of weeks ago which he did not manage to complete. I am hoping he returns to full fitness as he is a player I would like to see Salford sign on a permanent deal. He is with us for the full season so It whether or not we look to sign him will depend on his return to full fitness.
Jack Diamond - Harrogate Town (National League)
19-year-old winger Jack Diamond is another local lad who is regarded as one of Sunderland best prospects from our current academy squad.
Diamond appeared in every match of the EFL Trophy group stage last season, making his full debut in a 1-0 away win against Morecambe. On the back of those appearances, Diamond was loaned to Northern Premier League club Spennymoor town.
This season has been his breakthrough playing regular adult football for Harrogate, whose assistant manager is ex Sunderland midfielder Paul Thirlwell. After making several appearances from the bench, Diamond has cemented a starting place on the left-wing.
Although he is playing two divisions below League One, Sunderland fans should look at the successful National League loans of the likes of Jordan Pickford, Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman who all prospered from playing at that level.
The more senior football Diamond plays the better, his case will be a one to revaluate when the season concludes to judge if he is ready to challenge for a first-team spot.
Harrogate Town media correspondent Danny Pugsley said:
Jack was an unknown quantity when he arrived given how young he is and the lack of any meaningful senior experience. His opening weeks were on the bench and from the few minutes he got he did look like he may be more of a depth/squad signing, but he forced his way into the side and has more or less remained their since and looks to be growing in stature.
He is also keeping out some good (and more senior) players.
He is on the small size, but a positive player, looking to drive forward when he picks up the ball and has linked well with the two strikers. The initial loan (to January) has already been extended through to the end of the season which is a boost to Harrogate and probably reflects on how pleased Sunderland are too with his progress.
Jordan Hunter - South Shields (Northern Premier)
Likely to be unknown to the more casual Sunderland supporter, Jordan Hunter is a 19-year-old right-back who was signed from Liverpool last season.
Hunter was part of the group of academy players who made their debut in the EFL Trophy against Morecambe, also featuring off the bench in our pre-season victory over South Shields. Although Sunderland are crying out for a quality right-back, it is likely Sunderland will rectify this issue in the January transfer window rather than offering the youngster a chance.
Hunter has cemented a starting place in Shields’ team and recently had his loan at local club South Shields extended until the end of the season. He will be aiming to assist Lee Picton and Graeme Fenton’s team to continue their push to win the title.
A permament transfer to South Shields could be a desirable option for the young full-back.
South Shields fan Chris May of the Mariners Podcast said:
Jordan has been magnificent this season. His work ethic is terrific, his overall performance levels have been superb and those things have allowed him to become a firm favourite with the fans. Tremendous in attack, his play down the right flank is of high quality, whe his defensive positional play is improving too. Shields’ defensive record is literally 100% better than last season. The back 5 picks itself. He is a pivotal figure in it.
Jake Hackett - Whitby Town (Northern Premier)
Last but not least we have another promising 19-year-old midfielder who is looking to advance his game out on loan.
Probably a team unknown to many, Whitby sit at the mid-table in Northern Premier League currently topped by South Shields. However, they do have four plus games in hand on the majority of the league which should aid their play-off push.
Like Diamond and Hunter, Hackett made various appearances in the EFL Trophy last season and has been a regular starter for Elliott Dickman’s under-23 side.
He did feature under Jack Ross in pre-season but his chances of featuring in the first-team are highly unlikely, with Bali Mumba and Ruben Sammut being Parkinson’s preferred midfield academy additions to the first-team squad.
Whitby Town Media & Communications Manager Liam Ryder said:
Jake Hackett has been impressive in a Whitby Town shirt since joining on a youth loan from Sunderland, and has recently extended his loan until January 2020.
The 19-year-old midfielder perhaps hasn’t had as much game time as he would have wished following an unfortunate hamstring strain, but returned to action on Tuesday 26th November missing only a handful of games.
Hackett has six appearances to his name, with one of those being a substitute appearances as he made his debut in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup in front of nearly 1,200 spectators.
The Sunderland academy product has been something of a saviour for the Seasiders as he has scored from the penalty spot on three occasions, something which Whitby had struggled with prior to Hackett’s arrival. These are his only goals for the club.
His standout performance came in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Trophy where he scored one and assisted another in a 4-1 victory over Worksop Town.
He has shown that he is more than capable at Whitby’s level and looks to be very composed on the ball. Jake certainly has a bright future ahead of him.