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

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...

Jordan Pickford Signs A New Contract At Sunderland 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 2015 and working our way up to 2020 in our second 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.


Lynden Gooch

Born in California, Lynden Gooch began travelling to Sunderland and warmer climates from the age of 10 after being spotted in a US development academy. This process started way back in 2005 and ten years later the United States international made his debut for Sunderland replacing Adam Matthews in a League Cup 2nd round match against Exeter City at the Stadium of Light.

His impact was immediate, with the scoreline at 3-3 on his introduction, Gooch helped Sunderland to a 6-3 victory. Since his debut Gooch has racked up over 100 appearances for Sunderland across three divisions and is hoping to continue a run of form to propel Sunderland back into the promotion race.

Jordan Pickford

Never heard of him.

Rees Greenwood

Greenwood was one of two players to be handed their debuts by Sam Allardyce on the final day of the 2015-16 season. This came after Sunderland had secured safety in the Premier League with a run of one defeat in the previous ten games leading into the final day. The young winger made the starting line-up in the fixture that pitted Sunderland against Watford at Vicarage Road.

Greenwood was replaced on the hour mark and was not seen again on the pitch for Sunderland. He was released in 2018 and has had brief spells with Gateshead, Falkirk and moved to Spennymoor United in the summer of 2019.

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Rees Greenwood
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Thomas Robson

Robson was the second player to be handed their debuts at Vicarage Road alongside Rees Greenwood. The left-back played the full 90 minutes and as Greenwood, was never seen again on the pitch for Sunderland and was released in 2018 after a loan move to Limerick.

After spending a year at Falkirk, Robson signed for Partick Thistle in the summer of 2019.


Joel Asoro

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, 16-year-old Asoro joined Sunderland in 2015 despite interest from several bigger clubs including Manchester City and Juventus. It would only take a year for the Swedish forward to make his debut when David Moyes sent him on from the bench to replace Duncan Watmore with ten minutes remaining of a 2-1 home defeat to Middlesbrough.

Featuring in the first team squad became a regular occurrence the following season in the Championship and his form earned a £2 million move to Swansea City as Sunderland were relegated to League One. First team opportunities have been difficult to come by since making the move and Asoro is out on loan to Dutch side FC Groningen for the current season.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship
Joel Asoro and Josh Maja celebrate a Sunderland goal
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Josh Maja

Brought to the Sunderland academy as a 17-year-old after time in the youth setups of Manchester City, Crystal Palace and Fulham, the London-born striker made his debut during a League Cup tie against Queens Par Rangers in September 2016. He replaced Joel Asoro at Loftus Road with 20 minutes remaining and Sunderland a goal down and helped Sunderland to a 2-1 victory.

It would be Sunderland’s drop to League One that would propel Maja into becoming a first-team regular where he scored 15 goals in 22 starts before moving onto Bordeaux for a reported £3.5 million in January 2019. His impressive form in France has already attracted the interest of clubs to potential take another step up the football pyramid.


Elliot Embleton

After impressing in the U23’s the Durham born midfielder was given his debut by Chris Coleman in only his fourth game as Sunderland manager as Sunderland surprisingly achieved a goalless draw at high-flying Wolverhampton Wanderers despite having Lee Cattermole sent off. Embleton replaced Lynden Gooch for final few seconds of the game as Coleman was desperately running down the clock to gain the point.

He has since made 9 appearances (5 as sub) and was unfortunate to suffer a hamstring injury during Sunderland’s League Cup victory at Sheffield United earlier in the season. Let’s hope he is able to be fit soon to provide Phil Parkinson with another option for the remainder of this season.

Ethan Robson

Born in Houghton-le-Spring, the midfielder first joined the Academy of Light back in 2004 as an 8-year-old. He subsequently worked his way through the ranks to finally make his first-team debut coming on as a late substitute during a 3-0 defeat at Everton in the League Cup 3rd round in September 2017.

He has made 14 appearances for Sunderland so far and has had loans at Dundee and Grimsby Town where he has recently returned from. At 23, Robson now has an opportunity to cement a place in the new manager’s plans for the rest of the season.

Sunderland v Stoke U21 - Checkatrade Trophy
Ethan Robson
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Luke Molyneux

The Bishop Auckland-born winger was handed a place in the starting XI by Robbie Stockdale on the final day of the 2017-18 season for our bizarre 3-0 demolition of League champions Wolverhampton Wanderers. This would be the only start for the Sunderland first team that Molyneux would make with the additions of five more substitute appearances before being released last summer.

He now plies his trade in the National Conference with Hartlepool United.

Denver Hume

The second player to be handed their debut by Robbie Stockdale in the bizarre carnival atmosphere of our 3-0 final day victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers. He replaced Bryan Oviedo with around twenty minutes remaining with the score-line already at 3-0.

Hume has since developed, having made the starting line-up on 23 occasions last season, to become an important part of the first team and is now impressing in his new wing-back role in the current system.

Bali Mumba

The final player to be given his debut on the final day of the ill-fated 2017-18 season, highly-rated Mumba replaced John O’Shea in the final minute where the Sunderland captain handed him the armband to become Sunderland’s captain for the remaining few moments.

The following season in League One saw Mumba make Jack Ross’ starting XI for the opening day fixture at Charlton Athletic and the feeling was that this would be a springboard for more first team action. This however has not materialised into a push for the first team with 10 appearances (5 as substitute) so far, but it’s easy to forget the midfielder only turned 18-years-old and has the time on his side to become a permanent part of the Sunderland first team.

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League One
Bali Mumba
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


Lee Connelly

The Scottish striker was brought to Sunderland as a 16-year-old from Queens Park and was one of a number of younger players to have made his debut in the Football League Trophy since relegation to the third tier. He is currently on loan at Harrogate Town.

Jack Diamond

The Gateshead-born striker joined the Sunderland academy at the age of 14 and made his debut in the Football League Trophy last season. He is currently on loan at Harrogate Town with Lee Connelly.

Jake Hackett

19-year-old Hackett has already been with Sunderland for 11 years and made his senior debut in the Football League Trophy last season.

Jack Bainbridge

Central defender Bainbridge was Sunderland’s seventh signing in the summer of 2018 when he signed on a free transfer from Swansea City with a view to progressing in the U23’s. His two appearances for Sunderland so far have both come in he Football League Trophy.

Benji Kimpioka

Joined the Academy of Light as a 16-year-old from Sweden and also made use of the opportunity of Sunderland participating in the Football League Trophy by making his debut in the competition last season. He has since made 11 substitute appearances in League One and has the potential to push for further opportunities in the first team squad.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Premier League 2
Benji Kimpioka
Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dan Neil

Another academy player to make their debut for the club in the Football League trophy, the midfielder is currently part of the U18 squad.

Brandon Taylor

A defender for the U23 squad at the Academy of Light Taylor also made his debut for the first team in a Football League Trophy game.

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