The player who intrigues me the most in this regard is Jack Diamond.
Lots of fans on social media seem to have already made up their minds on him, but I’m optimistic and I think that he has the potential to be a feature regularly for us - IF he makes a great impression on Alex Neil in pre-season.
I’ve made this point before but I think it’s true - if any other Championship side had sent a winger to a League Two club on loan and they had managed to get fourteen goals and seven assists, and finishing the season as their top scorer whilst playing LEFT WING, surely they’d be given a proper chance? Otherwise, why else do we send these kids out on loan?
As far as I am concerned, he’s held up his part of the bargain. He took the opportunity at another club and did absolutely everything that he could to show he’s worthy. Now he absolutely has to be given a proper chance to impress.
One of the big features of Sunderland’s new philosophy since Kristjaan Speakman and Kyril Louis-Dreyfus took charge has been that our category one academy would be at the heart of the club, and that we’d give our best young players proper chances in the first team setup. Diamond may not be the finished article, but he’s got enough about him and has done enough elsewhere to suggest that he could develop into a canny player.
The key, however, is how he fares in pre-season. He’s got to get a clean slate from Neil, and I think that he will - and I’d love nothing more than for him to take his chance and become a regular in the side next season.
Malc Dugdale says…
I can see a couple of retained key players that could do with a solid pre-season to give themselves the best chance of thriving as the season starts.
The first I would put into that category would be Leon Dajaku.
There is a lot of speculation around his signing and whether it was forced by reaching a set number of appearances, or whether it was due to his quality. After being a bit-part player under Alex Neil, he needs to really make an impression in order to grab a place in the first eleven.
Dajaku looked good early on under Lee Johnson and he clearly has talent, but he needs to develop an understanding of the system we play, and how he can become more effective in the Championship.
The second player I would cite as needing to shine is Dan Neil.
His namesake rested/dropped him after Johnson almost burned him out by January, but we need to either play Dan or loan him out.
He needs to be playing in order to improve- he was in another class at times earlier in our last League One foray- but the pressure and amount of appearances took its toll. He needs to demonstrate what he can do, show he has grown, and how he can improve our strength in the next division up.
Matthew Crichton says…
As the likes of Carl Winchester and Lynden Gooch spent most of our promotion campaign covering at right-back, it is easy to forget handed a long-term deal to a right-back with bags of potential last season.
Niall Huggins’ debut season on Wearside was simply a disaster, but purely for off-the-pitch reasons rather than on.
The 21-year-old was plagued with various injury issues that restricted him to just four appearances in all competitions, however, in those games he did impress.
In Carabao Cup matches against Blackpool and Wigan, as well as in an excellent 5-0 thrashing of Cheltenham under the lights at the SoL, Huggins displayed his ability as an overlapping full-back that can play on both feet.
Coming into pre-season, this campaign represents a clean slate for the Welshman where he can properly show Alex Neil what he can do and get some minutes under his belt.
He will have clear competition in January recruit Trai Hume, as well as any potential new signing if Neil wants to add an experienced option, but this was a player that was given a Premier League debut by Leeds and who was meant to be our starting right-back.
One complication may be that if Neil persists with his back three/five system, as this would test Huggins’ ability to deliver consistent quality crosses and play as a wing-back, but this is something that will be trialled during the friendlies you would imagine.
If Huggins can start pre-season well and cement a place in Sunderland’s starting side, Neil may think twice before signing another right-back.