Lee Johnson's encouraging message to Dan Neil, Josh Hawkes and Sunderland's youngsters ahead of pre-season return
Lee Johnson says that Sunderland’s youngsters will be given every opportunity to stake their claim for a first-team place during pre-season
The likes of Josh Hawkes, Dan Neil and Oliver Younger are all likely to be given a chance to shine as the Black Cats prepare for the League One season, having impressed for the club’s under-23 side over the last twelve months.
Both Neil and Younger were handed opportunities in the league last season, while Hawkes finished the Premier League 2 campaign as the division’s joint top scorer.
The former Hartlepool United man has been linked with a summer exit – with Ipswich Town reportedly keen – but Sunderland are keen to see what the player has to offer upon his return in July.
And Johnson says that pre-season will begin with a ‘clean slate’ for the Sunderland youngsters, and he is keen to assess the talent already on the club’s books before finalising summer transfer business.
That’s not to say that signings will not be made before pre-season, but the head coach will give his young players an opportunity to show why they should start the League One opener.
“In pre-season I make really sure that in my mind everyone has a clean slate,” he said recently, speaking to the #SAFCUnfiltered Podcast.
“You want to be receptive to that young player making a breakthrough.
“Sometimes, when you're a young player when you're coming through you're always seen as a young player - even when you're 24, 25.
“I think the perception in football is sometimes the player's reality, and that's something that's got to be really mitigated against to make sure we're really assessing our young players before we recruit anyone else.”
Some of the club’s younger players are set to be given personalised training programmes for over the summer months to ensure they can hit the ground running upon their return – maximising their chances of making an impact.
"We're desperate for our young players to do well,” explained Johnson.
“I think, just to give Josh Hawkes and Dan Neil as an example, one of the big focuses is their summer. How can we bridge the gap physicality-wise from under-23 football to first-team football?
“Part of that journey will be that they will sit down with myself on a football front, then they will sit down with the sport science team and we'll actually build them a really itemised plan, if you like.
“Dan Neil we feel lungs wise is good, we haven't got to worry about him in that sense.
“But the plyometric power required to play the power, we think he's got some gains. Maturation wise it's great because he's got those gains in him and he's a fantastic professional.
“We expect him to be able to load up effectively over the summer.
“If he comes back and is last in a 12-minute run or a cross-country run, that's not a problem to me as long as we're seeing that burst and dynamic.
“You've got to build that strength, the plyometric power.”