Three exciting Sunderland prospects to watch out for in pre-season after U21s progress

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Sunderland’s under-21s side have impressed this season - with Graeme Murty’s side reaching the semi-finals of Premier League 2.

Sunderland’s under-21s side reached the semi-finals of Premier League 2 after a dramatic penalty shootout win over West Ham - but which players could get an opportunity with the first-team squad during pre-season?

Several members of the under-21s group will see their deals expire this summer, including captain Ellis Taylor (21) and Caden Kelly (20), with the club yet to announce if they will stay on Wearside. Other members of the team have at least a year left on their deals and will hope for more senior experience over the next 12 months. 

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Midfielder Chris Rigg has already become a recognised first-team member, making 21 Championship appearances at the age of 16. The teenager was given the chance to be part of Sunderland’s US tour last summer, while pre-season often provides opportunities for other under-21s players to impress. Here are some of the other names to look out for as the Black Cats prepare for the 2024/25 season.

Tom Watson 

Watson was handed his second senior appearance for Sunderland on the final day of the season against Sheffield Wednesday earlier this month, over a year after coming off the bench against Huddersfield during the last campaign.

The 17-year-old suffered a hamstring injury earlier in the year but has impressed since returning to action, scoring four goals and providing four assists in his last seven appearances for the under-21s side. 

While it’s too early to tag him as a potential replacement for Jack Clarke, Watson’s game style is remarkably similar, with the teenager demonstrating excellent dribbling ability and a desire to cut in from the left onto his stronger right foot. With two years left on the player’s contract, Sunderland’s coaching staff will hope they can develop Watson’s raw talent in the years to come, while showing there is a potential pathway into the first team.

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Oliver Bainbridge 

The rangy full-back has been one of the standout performers for Sunderland’s under-21s side this season, while he earned a first senior call-up when he was named on the bench against QPR in March.

Bainbridge has been used as a left winger while coming through the ranks on Wearside but has predominantly played at left-back this season, showing a willingness to get forward as well as strong defensive attributes. 

Following lengthy injury setbacks, Dennis Cirkin and Aji Alese should provide good options for Sunderland’s first team at left-back next term. Still, Bainbridge is certainly one to watch, with another year on his contract - as well as a club option of an extra 12 months.

Harrison Jones 

Sunderland are set to trigger a one-year extension in Jones’ contract this summer following an impressive season for the under-21s side.

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The attacking midfielder has scored seven times in Premier League 2 this season, playing as a central midfielder, number 10 and right winger. At 19, Jones still has some filling out to do as he tries to make the transition to senior football, yet his technical qualities and ability to run with the ball have been big assets.

After being named on the first team’s team’s bench twice this season, the teenager will hope he can continue to push towards the senior set-up while kicking on with the under-21s.

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