Four players Sunderland should build 2018-19 team around should Cats plummet into League One

Even the most optimistic of Sunderland fans would admit the Black Cats are facing one of their toughest challenges yet to stay up.

Friday, 23rd March 2018, 3:43 pm
Updated Friday, 23rd March 2018, 3:50 pm
Joel Asoro in action for Sunderland. Pictures by Frank Reid.
Joel Asoro in action for Sunderland. Pictures by Frank Reid.

Five points adrift of safety with just eight games remaining of the Championship campaign.

While two wins would take them out of the drop zone, depending on results elsewhere, this Sunderland side has shown very little sign they are capable of achieving it.

George Honeyman in action for Sunderland.

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Sunderland, without a win in 10 league games, haven't managed back-to-back wins all season.

It would take an almighty turnaround in fortunes to stay up from here.

Should the worst happen and they are relegated to the third tier for only the second time in the club's history then a clear out would inevitably follow.

We take a look at four players Sunderland should build the 2018-19 team around, if they drop into League One:

Sunderland midfielder Paddy McNair.

Paddy McNair:

Sunderland are yet to see the best of the 22-year-old Northern Ireland midfielder given his bad luck with injuries since arriving from Manchester United.

A serious knee injury kept him out for the best part of a year and he has struggled with groin injuries on his return.

McNair played the final 15 minutes of the 2-0 defeat to Preston North End and he will be in line for a start against Derby County on Good Friday.

Josh Maja in action.

McNair will no doubt not have envisaged playing in the third tier when he was breaking through the academy ranks at Old Trafford.

Should the club be relegated again and they manage to keep hold of McNair, the box-to-box midfielder would prove a huge asset in League One.

George Honeyman:

The academy product has firmly established himself in the Sunderland side this season, nobody else has played more minutes than the 23-year-old.

George Honeyman in action for Sunderland.

Honeyman has made 38 appearances and scored four goals this campaign. Some would question his end product but his workrate and commitment to the cause can't be questioned.

Chris Coleman recently highlighted what Honeyman brings to the team.

Coleman said: "I’ve been in professional football for 30 years as a player and a manager and, in terms of mentality, I’ve not seen anything better than him.

“He’s a huge, huge personality, desperate to play football, desperate to play for Sunderland Football Club.

“It bothers him for days if he plays badly. If he’s not playing, he’s devastated."

Sunderland could do with more players possessing his commitment.

Sunderland midfielder Paddy McNair.

Joel Asoro:

One thing the teenage forward doesn't lack is confidence.

And Asoro would fancy his chances of running riot in the third tier, if Sunderland fail to stay up this season.

The 18-year-old is on the radar of other clubs in this country and abroad given his huge potential and Sunderland may find themselves in a battle to maintain his services whichever division they are in next season.

Asoro won't see his long-term future in the third tier but if the worst happened and Sunderland fell through the trap door then they must try and keep hold of the Swedish Under-21 ace.

Coleman has already spoken of his desire to tie him and fellow teenager Josh Maja down to long-term deals.

On the face of it, Asoro's stats don't look that impressive. Two goals in 24 appearances.

But the pacy forward is often deployed out wide, causes opposition defences real problems and has been one of the few positives this season, not letting his confidence be drained by Sunderland's plight.

He looks to have a big future ahead of him. Sunderland need to secure his future on Wearside before the vultures inevitably circle.

Josh Maja:

Maja was top scorer in Sunderland's pre-season before injury struck, a bad knee injury that kept him out for the best part of three months.

On his return to action, Maja scored on his debut against Fulham, coming off the bench to score the winner.

He hasn't scored since and his confidence seems to have been affected by Sunderland's ongoing struggles on the pitch.

Maja is only 19 though and has plenty of promise.

Coleman thinks a lot of him and he is keen to tie him down to a long-term deal along with Asoro.

What Maja needs is an experienced head alongside him, someone he can learn from.

Jermain Defoe had a positive influence on Maja and Asoro but since he left Sunderland have already gone through two other strikers with Lewis Grabban and James Vaughan both leaving the club in January.

Maja has bags of potential and will play an increasingly important role for Sunderland.

Josh Maja in action.