Sunderland under-23 coach tips players for first-team opportunities after spirited play-off showing at Crystal Palace

Michael Proctor has backed some of Sunderland’s under-23 squad to make their mark on the first-team next season.

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 6:00 am

And the under-23 coach believes that any players handed a chance by Lee Johnson will ‘do the club proud’ moving forward.

Johnson was in the stands as Sunderland’s second string suffered a heartbreak defeat at Crystal Palace in the Premier League 2 Division 2 play-off final.

But he will no doubt have been enthused by the displays of a number of the club’s promising youngsters, many of whom are already knocking on the door of the first-team setup.

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Picture: Ian Horrocks

The likes of Oliver Younger, Anthony Patterson, Josh Hawkes and Dan Neil have regularly trained with Johnson’s side this term – and Proctor believes that some of club’s under-23 side could be set for a chance in pre-season.

"Some of those players have been excellent all season and will be pushing to be in the manager’s plans next season,” he said, speaking to The Echo.

"Ultimately, our role as an academy and as coaches is to try and produce players for our first-team and hopefully some of those lads will get an opportunity to do so.

"If they do, I’m sure they’ll do the club proud because one thing they will do is give everything they’ve got for this football club.”

The play-off final at Selhurst Park saw Sunderland more than match their hosts, with Neil and Hawkes coming close in a first half dominated by the Black Cats.

Palace improved after the break and Patterson was in inspired form to keep the Eagles at bay as the game headed into extra-time.

There was a big penalty shout for Sunderland late on, but the tie eventually headed to penalties – where Ellis Taylor’s miss saw the Wearsiders miss out on promotion.

But while naturally disappointed with the outcome, Proctor had nothing but praise for his side and hoped that the experience could act as a learning curve as they big to carve out a future in the game.

"These players are hopefully the future of this football club,” he said.

"As hard as it seems now standing here, that is an excellent learning curve for them.

"Someone like an Ellis Taylor – I’m absolutely devastated for the lad. He’s had a great season as an under-18 playing up in the under-23s and has done a lot better than even he probably would have expected. We’ve been delighted with him.

"There’s a lot of positives, even though at the minute it probably doesn’t feel like it.

"The whole of this season the player’s effort has been absolutely second to none,” he continued.

“As a group of staff we couldn’t possibly have asked for any more from them.

"Yes, tonight hurts. The lads are devastated in the dressing room as you can imagine, but there’s an immense sense of pride as well in the way they’ve conducted themselves this season and the effort they’ve given.

"It’s a tough one to take tonight, especially losing the way we did, but overall this season has been a successful one.”

A message from the Football Clubs Editor:

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Sunderland AFC coverage 365 days a year.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor