Sunderland’s talented crop of youngsters are catching the eye of several Football League clubs – and up to four could be leaving on loan in January.
George Honeyman, Rees Greenwood, skipper Tommy Robson, Ethan Robson and Michael Ledger are among those to impress this season.
Championship side Barnsley wanted Tommy Robson in the summer, but Sunderland kept hold of their younger players given how short of options manager David Moyes was.
With the Black Cats’ injury problems easing, Sunderland are set to sanction loan moves for those players who would benefit from a spell in the Football League.
There is plenty of interest and Under-23 boss Andy Welsh admits a few could leave on loan in January to boost their development.
Welsh told the Echo: “Of course it will be the manager’s decision, but I think there is scope.
“There has been quite a bit of interest in three or four of the lads, as you can imagine.
“We have started the season brightly again and there were a lot of scouts at the Benfica game taking a look.
“I could see for development the opportunity for maybe two, three or four going out on loan in January, which will then open up the squad places in the Under-23s for the likes of Luke Molyneux and Dan Casey.
“It might open the team up for them going into the second part of the season.”
Joel Asoro and Josh Maja have also starred, but they are only 17 and are likely to remain at Sunderland and continue their development with the Under-23s.
Sunderland, who finished second in the league last season, are fourth in the Under-23 Premier League 2 table, with 15 points from their opening 10 matches, including this week’s 2-0 win over Manchester United.
They are also top of their Premier League Cup group and off to a winning start in the Premier League International Cup after beating Benfica 2-1 – with several scouts watching the action unfold.
Jordan Pickford, Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch have all graduated from the Under-23s to the first team in the past 12 months.
And getting players out on loan is seen as a key part of their development.
Changes to the system in the summer, which saw the emergency loan system scrapped, mean players can only be loaned out in transfer windows on a half or full season loan.
It means players can no longer be loaned out for a month or two at a time.
Welsh said the emergency loan system was a useful way of getting players valuable first-team football.
On the new system, Welsh added: “I am not really in favour, because a month here or a couple of months there as an emergency loan was a good benefit; when you can send them out and bring them back.
“If some of our older ones can’t get through to the first team then they have to keep playing in the Under-23s.
“Sometimes they might need a little bit more.
“I don’t think it has been a fantastic development tool, no.”