RYAN Noble is set to play a leading role for Sunderland against Hartlepool United tonight – the club the striker starred for on loan last season.
Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill was impressed with the 19-year-old’s efforts on the recent trip to South Korea – in particular the match-turning display he produced as a substitute against Groningen.
And the teenager can expect the reward of a place in Sunderland’s starting line-up for tonight’s friendly – the first against English opposition of the pre-season at Victoria Park (kick-off 7.30pm).
O’Neill told the Echo: “Ryan had a really good tour and I’m seriously thinking about starting him in the Hartlepool game.
“I think the 20-minute cameo he produced against Groningen is worthy of him getting the nod.
“He didn’t have much in the way of playing time when we were out in South Korea, but what impressed me was that when he did come on against Groningen he was really up for it and totally changed the complexion of the game.
“He held the ball up well when he needed to, which is a part of his game he’s trying to develop.
“And right there at the end he was there to score a superb goal to win the game for us.”
Noble is hoping to make this his breakthrough season after years of impressive goalscoring displays for Sunderland’s youth and reserve teams.
Two loan spells at Championship clubs failed to work out as the Milllfield-born striker would have hoped, with a troublesome back injury causing most of the problems in spells at Watford and Derby County.
But he thoroughly enjoyed his spell at Hartlepool between March and May of this year and won rich praise from boss Neale Cooper for his efforts in nine games for the League One club, during which he scored two goals.
Cooper is hoping he might get Noble back on loan this season, but the striker himself is keeping his options open.
“I’m just trying to have as good a pre-season as I possibly can and hope to catch the manager’s eye,” he said.
Noble certainly did that against Groningen with a special winner – advancing from near the half-way line, wrong-footing defenders before unleashing a spectacular shot from 18 yards. And he is set to get another chance to catch the eye this evening.