Sunderland youngsters must fight for more first-team contention

George Honeyman in action for Sunderland U21 against Manchester United U21.  Picture by FRANK REID
George Honeyman in action for Sunderland U21 against Manchester United U21. Picture by FRANK REID
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HOMEGROWN pair George Honeyman and Liam Agnew now have to rise to the challenge of returning to the first-team picture after making their Sunderland debuts.

That’s the target laid down to the duo from their development coach Robbie Stockdale after the two promising midfielders came off the bench for Sunderland in the FA Cup earlier this month.

The pair became the first academy products to be handed their first-team bows by Gus Poyet, with Agnew coming off the bench in the fourth round win at Fulham and Honeyman as a late substitute in the fifth round defeat at Bradford.

But ex-Middlesbrough defender Stockdale says neither Honeyman nor Agnew can afford to rest on their laurels, if they want to make the grade at Sunderland.

Stockdale told the Echo: “It’s been fantastic for them, what a boost.

“That’s why you do it, to try to develop players to play in the first team.

“But the job is certainly not done with those two.

“I want them to get 10 appearances, 20, 30 and then be regulars.

“That’s the aim and they have to work hard to do it.

“It was good that the manager trusted them enough to play.

“But they’ve got to do it again now. The hardest part is staying there.”

Mikael Mandron, who netted in the Under-21s’ 1-1 draw against Manchester United last night, has also featured under Poyet this season after coming on as a substitute in last month’s defeat to Liverpool.

And while injuries have somewhat forced Poyet’s hand to include youngsters on the bench, Stockdale says seeing them get a chance gives the whole academy system a boost.

“It filters down all through the academy,” he added.

“All the way through. I’ve had texts from part-time coaches at the club, scouts, because everyone has a hand in it on the way up.

“It just proves that if you have the right attitude and you’re good enough, then you will get a chance.”