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Making the Grade: Academy graduates who have made their Sunderland debut since 2010 (Part I)

We take a look at all the graduates who have made their debut for Sunderland over the last decade and see how their careers have gone so far...

Sunderland Players Return for the Start of Pre-Season Training Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

How successful has the Academy of Light been over the last decade at churning out young players capable of taking that huge leap from academy football to the first XI?

Starting with those making their debuts in 2010 and working our way up to 2015 in this first part of two, we look at all players who have crossed that white line and made an appearance for Sunderland, even if it’s only for a few seconds towards the end of the game.

There were a lot of names who only made the bench but only the players who officially made their debut for the lads make our list.


Michael Liddle

Signing professional terms with Sunderland in May 2008, the defender would make his debut against Barrow in the 3rd round of the FA Cup in January 2010 coming on as a late substitute.

Several loan moves followed at Carlisle United, Leyton Orient, Gateshead and Accrington Stanley where he moved permanently for an undisclosed fee in July 2012. He left Stanley in 2016 with spells at Dunston UTS, Blyth Spartans and Darlington where he is contracted for the current season.

Ryan Noble

As Michael Liddle, Noble made his debut in the 3rd round FA Cup tie at home to Barrow in January 2010 where he replaced Darren Bent with around 20 minutes remaining. The striker would go on to make five more appearances as substitute before making a number of loan moves where he did not make an impact.

After being picked up and released by Burnley the following season Noble has forged a career in non-league with the number of clubs entering double figures.

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Derby County v Sunderland - Pride Park
Ryan Noble
Photo by John Walton - PA Images via Getty Images

Jack Colback

Jack Colback signed on as a professional in May 2008 and made his debut whilst on loan at Ipswich in August 2009. Clearly a talented young player he would make his debut in the final game of the 2009-10 season replacing Steed Malbranque in the 77th minute. He would however not make the final whistle via being sent off for two bookable offences.

Colback would be deployed by various managers in his natural midfield role or as a make-shift full-back during his 136 appearances for Sunderland, before leaving on a free transfer to Newcastle United in June 2014.

Apart from a brief spike in popularity where certain quarters of the media mistook him for a distant relation of Andrea Pirlo, it’s been mostly downhill for Colback where he has failed to make the 25-man Premier League squad at St James’ Park for the current season.


Jordan Cook

Part of the Hetton School alumni, Jordan Cook would make his debut at Old Trafford on Boxing Day 2010 replacing Steed Malbranque with less than ten minutes remaining during a 2-0 defeat.

The midfielder would only make two more substitute appearances dispersed with loan moves before being released in 2012. Cook has had spells with Charlton Athletic, Walsall, Luton Town and Grimsby Town where he still plies his trade.

Louis Laing

Newcastle-born central defender Laing made his debut in the penultimate game of the 2010-11 season replacing John Mensah for the last few minutes of a 3-1 defeat at the Stadium of Light to Wolverhampton Wanderers. He was released in the summer of 2014 with this being his only appearance. He moved onto Nottingham Forest but only made appearances due to loan moves away from the City Ground.

He has since played for Motherwell, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Hartlepool United, Blyth Spartans and currently plays alongside Michael Liddle at Darlington.

Soccer - Carling Cup - Second Round - Brighton & Hove Albion v Sunderland - Amex Stadium
Louis Laing
Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images

Craig Lynch

Lynch made his debut via replacing Jordan Henderson with Sunderland already 3-0 down to Fulham in April 2011. The midfielder would only add one more substitute appearance to his total before being released in 2014.

Brief spells with Rochdale, Spennymoor and Blyth Spartans followed. He resigned as manager of Seaham Red Star in May 2018.

There were no academy graduates to make their way into the first team during the 2011-12 season.


Billy Knott

Born in Canvey Island, Billy Knott joined the Academy of Light in 2011 as a 19-year-old after being released by Chelsea. He would spend three years at Sunderland making only one appearance for the Black Cats. His debut for Sunderland came in an end of season game at White Hart Lane, where Paolo Di Canio threw him on as substitute for James McClean for the last twenty minutes in a 1-0 defeat.

After Sunderland, Knott moved to Bradford making 79 appearances over two seasons before a move to Gillingham after release from his contract at The Bantams. This was followed by spells at Lincoln and Rochdale, where he started just once and made three appearances from the bench in January 2018, before signing for Concord Rangers in the summer of 2018.

Mikael Mandron

Mandron joined Sunderland joined the Academy of Light in 2011 at the age of 16 and made his debut in the 6-1 defeat against Aston Villa in April 2013 under Paolo Di Canio.

The French striker would only make two more substitute appearances before being released in 2016 where he was picked up by Eastleigh. Moves to Wigan Athletic and Colchester United followed, and he can currently be found scoring against the likes of Sunderland in League One with Gillingham.

Sunderland v Borussia Monchengladbach - Premier League U21 International Cup
Mikael Mandron
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Adam Mitchell

After being handed his debut by Paolo Di Canio on the final day of the 2012-13 season in an away defeat to Tottenham Hotspur as a late substitute, the winger would be released a year later without making another appearance for the club. After being released he would have spells with Darlington and Spennymoor Town.

There were no academy graduates to make their way into the first team during the 2013-14 season.


Liam Agnew

Sunderland-born Agnew was handed his debut by Gustavo Poyet in February 2015 when he replaced Ricky Alvarez as substitute for the last couple of minutes of an FA Cup 4th round replay 3-1 victory at Fulham.

This would be the midfielders only appearance before being released in 2016 and briefly joining Boston United. This was followed by a move to Harrogate Town in 2017 where he has just returned after a loan to York City.

Sunderland v PSV Eindhoven - Premier League International Cup
Liam Agnew
Photo by Ian Horrocks - Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

George Honeyman

After joining the Academy of Light at ten years old, Honeyman had 12 years at the club under his belt before making his debut in February 2015. This came as an 86th minute substitute replacing Ricky Alvarez in a disastrous FA Cup 5th round defeat to Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City at Valley Parade.

Seven more appearances would come over the next two seasons before becoming a first-team regular after Sunderland’s ill-fated return to the Championship in 2017. Honeyman, one of the success stories of the last decade for our academy, then progressed to being club captain under Jack Ross ahead of the League One campaign last season and moved to Hull City for an undisclosed fee in 2019.

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