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Lincoln City v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy EFL Trophy

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Reader’s Corner: Do we finally have the club structure that our Academy deserves?

RR reader Mike Stubbs reflects on the intelligent development of Sunderland’s best youngsters - do we finally have a structure that our academy deserves? Fancy writing? - send us an email!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Jimmy Montgomery was my childhood hero. At first, I followed Arsenal and the heroics of Bob Wilson were my inspiration to become a goalkeeper.

But, very quickly, my hometown club and the exploits of Sunderland-born and bred ‘Monty’ replaced one red and white kit with another.

The development of my goalkeeping that followed - the yellow gardening gloves that became a prerequisite in the 1970s - were invariably inspired by Monty. The homegrown keepers that followed - the likes of Mark Prudhoe and Michael Ingham, kept my interest alive.

But gradually the club moved away from the talent on their own doorstep. Occasionally the likes of Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford would break through. But it became commonplace to see our young talent flourish elsewhere.

John Egan, Martyn Waghorn, Josh Maja and Bali Mumba are all examples of young talent who are acquitting themselves at a higher level than where the club currently finds itself.

Manchester City v Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

So Tuesday night’s performance was a perfect example of the change taking place within SAFC. It would have been easy to select some of the more experienced squad members. The reasons would have written themselves - ‘needs more game time, coming back to full fitness’ - and so many more.

But those obvious selections were ignored, in favour of a group of young players who are starting to prove that they have capabilities beyond the Under 23 squad.

Entrusting the captain’s armband to Dan Neil wasn’t a gesture - it was a statement of intent, a symbol of belief in a young player who grows in stature, week by week.

But what is also being demonstrated is the intelligent management of player development. Neil (and Embleton) have been left out of the team, removing the burden of expectation on them. Diamond, Patterson and Hawkes have been sent out on loan to environments that should expose them to circumstances where they can learn the demands of first team football, away from the pressure of 30,000 fans.

Lincoln City v Sunderland - Papa John’s Trophy EFL Trophy Photo by Andrew Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

The ‘Pizza Cup’ provides a perfect opportunity to ‘blood’ our young talent - but only if our club is willing to take the risks associated with that.

On Tuesday night, we witnessed a progressive management team, showing confidence in our developing players, and having the courage to stand behind them.

It is what so many of us have been hoping for, for so long.


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