After a pretty good start results-wise to the pre-season fixture list on home soil, Gus Poyet and the lads jetted off to Portugal for a training camp in the heat.
Sunderland had emerged victorious in each of the three games played so far: A 5-1 win over Darlington was followed by a 1-0 victory at Carlisle and a 3-1 win over Hartlepool. In the first game the whole team was replaced at haldf time, while in the latter two fixtures a full Academy team replaced the first team after an hour.
Of course, this meant a number of players had been given a run out and as such Sunderland took a big squad on the trip, and started their run of fixtures in Portugal with a game against Spanish second-tier club Recreativo de Huelva in Albufeira.
While you might have expected a reasonably strong squad to be named for the opening game of the tour, Sunderland began with a very inexperienced team, due to the fact there was another fixture – against CD Nacional – just 24 hours later.
The lad won the game 1-0 – a Mika Mandron penalty 13 minutes from time securing the win. But what became of the lads that started the game that day?
Keeper Dixon was born in Middlesbrough and while he’d been on the bench had never made a competitive appearance for the lads. He’d had a spell on loan at Workington the season prior to this, and loans to Boston, Hartlepool and Gateshead followed. He departed Sunderland permanently in 2015, joining Barrow for whom he played around 200 games, helping them get back into the league and staying there too. He joined Bolton last summer and played 23 games in League One, including the game against us at the Stadium of Light.
Right back Cartwright was released the following season having never played a first team game, and joined Blyth Spartans, for whom he played for three seasons. He headed to Australia to play for Western Knights, and while in Perth he focused on coaching. Now back in the north east, Cartwright – who has also coached at the Academy – runs his own coaching academy and has just signed for Ashington, too.
Sunderland born Ferguson was signed from Darlington in 2012, and was highly thought of for a while. He’d played in a few of the pre-season games so far, but couldn’t break into the first team. Poyet let him go in the January transfer window, with championship team Blackpool giving him a one and a half year deal. He played 40 times for the Tangerines, captaining the team in his final season, before being released in the summer of 2016. He then joined Shildon, played again for Darlington before signing for York full time in 2017. In 2020 he joined Hartlepool, and helped them regain their place in the football league for this upcoming season. He lined up against us in Monday’s game at Victoria Park.
Highly-rated Beadling, who was born in Barrow but grew up in Australia, had been with the Academy since the age of eight, and was expected to go on to big things. He captained the under-23 team, but failed to make the first team during his time with the club. He had a spell on loan at bury in 2017, and joined Dumfermline in 2018 on a permanent basis after a successful loan. He joined former team mate Dixon at Barrow in 2020, playing 41 games in two seasons there, before heading back to Australia to join Western Sydney Wanderers in 2022.
The son of Academy director Ged, Tom McNamee was another of this group who failed to make a first team appearance during his time at the club. After leaving Sunderland in the summer of 2015 he joined Blyth, and following time in the US and Canada is now the Scholarship Academy Manager at Welling United.
One of two players in this team who ‘made it’ at Sunderland, Watmore had arrived at the club the season prior and had had a taste of first team action in the FA Cup before enjoying a loan spell at Hibs. He didn’t make his league debut for Sunderland until August 2015, and went on to play an important role under Sam Allardyce as we stayed up. Of course, he suffered two serious knee injuries in the following two campaigns which blighted his progress at Sunderland, and joined Middlesbrough a couple of seasons ago. Since leaving Sunderland he’s played pretty much as many games in two seasons for Boro as he did for us in seven years, scoring 16 times in comparison to his eight for the lads.
The ‘other’ Martin Smith was another who was highly thought of at Sunderland but failed to get a competitive game, leaving the club permanently in 2016. Spells at Kilmarnock and Coleraine preceded a return to English football with Swindon, for whom he played 11 times, and Salford, for whom he played 8. He spent last season at Hartlepool, and has just joined South Shields.
Agnew was another who staff had high hopes for but never really got a chance at the Stadium of Light. A central midfielder, he had been given a two year contract the season before and had enjoyed a successful loan at Boston United in 2013/14. He was unable to force his way into the team, however, and joined Boston permanently in 2016, before heading to Harrogate for three years. He last played for Blyth Spartans in the 2020/21 season.
19-year-old Honeyman hadn’t made his first team debut yet – that was to come in the final throes of Gus Poyet’s tenure in February 2015. A spell on loan at Gateshead followed in October 2015, before he got a few sub games as Sunderland were relegated to the Championship. A regular as we were relegated again, he was appointed captain for our first League One season and played 44 games as we just missed out in the play offs. He was sold as the Chuckle Brothers cashed in on anything that moved, joining Hull City in 2019. He’s just joined Millwall ahead of the new season.
A cultured and classy player, Lawson had scored at Hartlepool and was at Sunderland for another three seasons before being released in 2017. He’s since turned out for Whitby, Sunderland RCA, Guisborough and Consett, and has recently signed for Seaham Red Star.
Another familiar name, Mandron had had a taste of first team action and had been expected to break through into the first team on a more permanent basis. He’d played a major role so far in the preseason, scoring the winner in the friendly at Carlisle. The Frenchman had loan spells with Fleetwood, Shrewsbury and Hartlepool before departing the Stadium of Light permanently in 2016 for Eastleigh (aargh), where he impressed enough to earn a move to Championship team Wigan. He managed only three games for the Latics before turning out for Colchester, Gillingham and Crewe, before rejoining Gillingham this summer. Sunderland fans will no doubt remember his brace for Gillingham at the Stadium of Light a couple of years ago. Of course, that was two of only six goals he managed that season...