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Sunderland v Heerenveen Pre-Season Friendly

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Which Sunderland youngster do you think can have the biggest impact next season?

Looking slightly ahead, which young player would you like to see have a huge part to play in Sunderland’s first team, regardless of which league we are in?

Photo by Iam Burn/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Gary Engel is backing JOSH HAWKES!

Josh Hawkes arrived from Hartlepool as an exciting prospect, yet to fulfil his early potential. He had caught the eye of Premier League suitors, Leeds and Newcastle before we agreed a deal for him. While first team chances have been limited for the exciting young midfielder, the talk surrounding him remains positive.

In other circumstances, given his previous reputation of promoting youth, Lee Johnson may well have used the likes of Diamond, Neil and even Hawkes more liberally this last few months. But no matter what the outcome by the end of this season, the expectation for youth to get its chance will arrive.

Sunderland’s Under 23s have been performed reasonably well this term. With each good result Hawkes’ name and form have shone brightly. With 12 goals and 6 assists in 19 Under 23 matches its is no wonder Hartlepool received plenty of interest from other clubs for his services.

So for his next step, he must get a good preseason under his belt and make it into Lee Johnson’s plans. That will need to include some much-needed physical training to help him cope with the step up to the football league against stronger opponents. But with the right dedication over the coming months, he could begin to fulfil his promise.

He may be an impact player at first, with an eye for goal, who can operate in most of the attacking midfield roles he could be just the kind of player we need. There have been plenty of older heads around to learn from, in his recent Under 23 strike partner, Chris Maguire to Aiden McGeady or Jordan Jones. Potentially, if Hawkes could develop to a similar level to the latter two mentioned, he could be one hell of a young player!

Sunderland AFC Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Phil West is backing JACK DIAMOND!

He’s raw, his decision-making needs to improve, and he’s a player that could become an integral part of our team next season, regardless of whether we achieve promotion this season. I’m talking about Jack Diamond, a player who has really made an impression on a number of occasions this season.

Simply put, Diamond is the kind of player who could inject some real pace and dynamism into our attack. For years, Sunderland teams have lacked pace and penetration to a criminal degree, but this season, with the likes of Diamond and Jordan Jones coming into the team, we have looked to play at a higher tempo, and that is something that definitely needs to be maintained in the seasons ahead.

With the ball at his feet, Diamond can and will run at opposing defences, and he’s very difficult to stop once he gets moving. Yes his final ball can improve, but that is something that I’m certain will happen with time.

I don’t buy into the argument that he needs to be loaned out again next season, as has been suggested on occasion. His time to become a first-team regular at Sunderland could be now, and I get a sense that Lee Johnson really believes in his talent and his potential.

With a good pre-season under his belt, Diamond could make the transition from impact substitute to regular first-team starter next season, and I think the team will be better for that. He’s not the only young prospect who we could call on next season, but he’s certainly one of the most exciting.

If the KLD era is going to be one where we utilise our academy to its full potential, giving 100% backing to Diamond would be a great place to start!

Northampton Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Sam Blakey is backing DAN NEIL!

I’m not going to pretend like I know how good Neil is or has the potential to be, however from the glimpses we have seen of him he seems composed on the ball, and usually is looking for the killer pass into the forwards.

Currently within the squad we lack that player who can pick up the ball in midfield and quickly get an attack started - Scowen, Leadbitter, Power and Winchester - whilst bringing other things to the table - tend to slow the game down.

Leadbitter has been a great servant to the club and I love him to pieces, however his time in the first team should be coming to an end - especially if we get promoted to the Championship.

I’d like to see Leadbitter become a part of the coaching staff after this season, and what a great mentor he could be for someone like Dan Neil. As a club, for as long as I can remember we have lacked a goal-scoring central midfielder, and whilst I admit I haven’t seen that from Dan Neil in his short number of appearances, I believe the tools are there if someone can work with him behind the scenes to easily chip in with plenty of goals.

The struggle with Dan Neil is taking him from hardly any first-team experience to almost throwing him in the deep end. Yes, it’s a bit of a risk but the word I mentioned earlier could play a key role in his development - ‘composure’.

If Dan Neil is managed correctly and worked on in training properly, there’s no reason why he can’t become a very important player for us going forward, in League One or higher.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Papa John’s Trophy Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale is backing BENJI KIMPIOKA!

Despite his recent injury woes, I would really like to see more of Benji Kimpioka, whether we go up or stick in League One for another season.

He is no doubt one of the roughest diamonds the academy has produced, but that does not mean he should miss out - at any time even he doesn’t know what he is going to do next, and you cannot teach that, but you very much can harness and benefit from it.

He has pace, aggression, drive and ability aplenty, and before his injuries and his loan spell he was doing really well for the U23 team in terms of goals and general play.

Like many of the comments in this item he needs some help channeling those abundant but rough qualities to become a more rounded player, but I certainly think he is worth the effort, and we certainly don’t want to see him leave cheap so that other clubs can reap what we have sown (like his mate Bali).

Back in our earlier years in league one we played Posh at home, and being Peterborough residents I travelled up with my lad. We ended up drawing 2-2 despite having a senior player like Oviedo sent off.

Kimpioka came on in the second half and made the most aggressive, mazy run towards me and my lad in the lower north stand. To cap it all off, he let out a huge roar to the fans when he won us a corner, and that, my friends, is what we need.

We need young lads who get the club and its fans and who give it all for the club whenever they get an opportunity. They need to be allowed to come forward and flourish, rather than being suppressed and stranded in youth footy.

I’d love to see Kimpioka back fit and having a major go at becoming another great asset from our youth section next season, and with a smattering of first-team starts and the odd goal (such as the equaliser vs Coventry, again at home), the step up could be less steep than many.


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