If you think of all the young players that have come through recently, it’s enough to make any Sunderland fan optimistic for the future.
The likes of Jack Diamond, for instance, who did well before going out on loan. Elliot Embleton has looked very comfortable at this level. Denver Hume was a regular in the first team last season. Others are on the fringes now, and are ready to breakthrough: Ellis Taylor, Ollie Younger, Anthony Patterson, Josh Hawkes and others.
But for the breakout of the pack, the star in our ranks has to be Dan Neil. If Ross Stewart is the ‘Loch Ness Drogba’, then we might have found in Neil the ‘South Shields Zidane’.
In all seriousness, his performance against Lincoln City was one of real maturity and oozed class from the very first few touches.
I try and focus on one player throughout the match to watch and analyse them closely, and get a feel for their style of play, strengths and weaknesses.
I thought it was a superb performance from start to finish.
His first touch was always dot-on - every time he got it, he was ready to take the ball forward. His range of passing was excellent, whether it was a short, neat pass, or a longer one.
His movement and anticipation were on another level. The Lincoln midfielders were chasing his shadow for practically the whole match and he just made it look so effortless.
That’s without mentioning the goal. Just two minutes or so were on the clock when he took aim and thundered a complete stunner into the top corner from around 20 yards - he put it in the postage stamp of the net, and left the keeper with no chance. If he was jumping on a trampoline he wouldn’t have even got close.
It was a real coming-of-age performance. He barely put a foot wrong all night and rarely do you see a player have ninety minutes like that at this level.
He has to surely be considered a regular in the first team. I see absolutely no reason why he can’t be playing regularly in League One. He has the ability, and has proven that his temperament is exactly what’s needed, and he’s had a real impact so far.
We should really be building the team around him, and tying him down to a longer deal with some kind of a release clause in there.
Too often our negotiations with academy products have been badly handled. You could look back at Jack Colback many years ago moving to our dearly beloved up the road, or more recently, Josh Maja and Bali Mumba leaving for Bordeaux and Norwich respectively.
I’m not advocating selling him by the way, far from it. I’m simply stating that we should be making sure we tie him down and take precautions.
If a club wants to make an offer, they will have to pay a hefty price, and we would be under no obligation to let him go without it being on our own terms.
I’ve seen a few articles comparing him to Jordan Henderson, but I don’t think that’s helpful really. Henderson burst onto the scene with an energy and fearlessness that belied his years but he’s a different player in both style and development. Let's not forget, Henderson also came in at Premier League level and had several seasons to bed himself into the team. Neil won’t have much time and it’s at a lower level so it’s hard to judge the two.
I don’t see why we can’t judge him in his own right. He has the ability and potential to really make an impact at this club.
It’s believed that the route back to the top for clubs at this level is to develop your best youngsters, and watch them grow with the club - and his best years will surely be at Sunderland... his club.
In Dan, we may have found a little gem. I just hope he’s allowed to shine.