Mark Carruthers: There are a number of North East non-league prospects catching the eye of EFL and Premier League clubs
There have been signs Premier League and Football League clubs are turning their focus towards the North East non-league scene in their search for untapped talent.
The days of “whistling down the mine for a striker” may be rapidly heading into the distant past – but there are still players ready to follow the same path as the likes of Alan Shoulder and Kevin Phillips.
Although some may have slipped under the radar, the last decade has seen several non-league players secure moves into the professional game.
Lewis Wing made one of the biggest jumps during that time after impressing in the Ebac Northern League with the likes of Seaham Red Star and Shildon.
It was during his time with the latter that the midfielder secured a move to Middlesbrough in the summer of 2017 and he has more than taken his chance at a higher level.
An impressive loan spell at Yeovil Town gave Wing a taste of life in the EFL during the second half of the 2017/18 season and he returned to Boro to challenge for a place in the first team squad.
Wing made a second temporary move away from Teesside in January as he joined Championship rivals Rotherham United and he will hope to re-establish himself in Neil Warnock’s thoughts when he returns to Boro in the summer.
However, no matter what lies ahead for the 25-year-old, after making a jump of seven steps in the football pyramid, there can be no doubt that Wing’s move has been a success.
Scott Fenwick also made the most of the opportunity offered to him by Hartlepool United after he shone in the colours of then-Northern League club Dunston UTS.
The Geordie striker was a surprising signing by Pools during a season of struggle at Victoria Park – but he played a significant role in helping Ronnie Moore’s side pull off “the greatest escape” by grabbing the first goal of a key win against Exeter City on the penultimate weekend of the season.
Gateshead have a regular source of players into the Football League during the last decade with the likes of Marcus Maddison and Josh Gillies secured moves after impressing at the International Stadium.
But it is the Heed’s academy that has provided the launchpad for a number of players to secure moves during a time of trouble of the south bank of the Tyne.
Midfielder Tom White was one of the major reasons why Gateshead belied their off-field problems to mount a serious challenge for the National League play-offs during the 2018/19 season.
A nine-point penalty for financial irregularities left the club sat in seventeenth place – but White had done enough to spark a scramble for his services with several EFL club showing an interest.
Championship club Blackburn Rovers won the race for his services and he gained his first experience of life in the EFL during loan spells with Barrow and Bolton Wanderers.
White has shone back in the National League after joining Hartlepool on loan until the end of the season and he will hope to help Dave Challinor’s side return to the Football League before returning to Rovers.
Another academy graduate that caught the eye during Gateshead’s controversial season was young defender Jon Mellish.
The South Tyneside-born centre-back was a model of consistency alongside the likes of Mike Williamson and Scott Barrow and was rewarded for his performances with a move to Carlisle United at the end of the season.
A change in position has sparked a remarkable run of form for Mellish after being moved into midfielder by Cumbrians manager Chris Beech.
The 23-year-old found the net in Tuesday night’s 2-1 defeat at Colchester United to make it 13 goals in 31 games in all competitions during an impressive campaign at Brunton Park.
Mellish’s form was rewarded when he signed a deal to keep him at the club until the summer of 2022 and he continues to look at home with life at a higher level.
There was another graduate from the North East non-league scene when Hebburn Town striker Cedwyn Scott after he joined Mellish at Carlisle in January.
The former Dunston UTS and Berwick Rangers spent time on trial at Newcastle United and was believed to be attracting interest from the likes of Sunderland, Morecambe and Peterborough United after a stunning run of form in the Northern League.
Scott plundered his way to 22 goals in just 16 games for Hebburn and secured a short-term move to Carlisle after impressing during a loan spell in Cumbria.
The Hexham-born forward made his Football League debut on Tuesday night as he replaced Mellish with 12 minutes left of the defeat at Colchester – and he will now hope to impress sufficiently to secure a longer stay at Brunton Park.
Earlier this week, South Shields academy prospect Harry Gardiner secured a move to Sunderland and shining during a relatively short stint with the Mariners.
The forward had an eight-week trial at the Academy of Light and has now officially signed a two-and-a-half-year scholarship with the Black Cats.
There are a number of North East non-league prospects catching the eye of EFL and Premier League clubs and it surely won’t be long until another name is adding to an ever-growing list.
Hartlepool United prospect Joe Grey had interest from Championship and League One clubs before signing his first pro deal at Victoria Park in the summer and Pools keeper Brad Young spent time training with Premier League giants in the early part of 2020.
Scouts from higher up the pyramid have been regular visitors to North East non-league grounds over the past few years and with good reason as clubs continue to provide the perfect platform for young players to progress.
Surely, it will not be long before the next diamond is given its chance to shine.