The impressive Sunderland youngsters in line for a big opportunity through pre-season and beyond
Sunderland have underlined their commitment to giving youngsters an opportunity next season as they bid to put sustainability at the heart of their long-term vision.
Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman this week again stressed that the reward for a number of players who shone in the excellent U23 campaign would be handed a chance to impress in pre-season.
Here, we run you through those on the brink of a breakthrough...
Patterson is highly thought of behind the scenes and his performances in senior training have impressed Johnson.
The youngster is an impressive shot stopper but on his first-team debut at Oldham Athletic last season showed an impressive command of his penalty area.
The 21-year-old underlined his growing reputation with an excellent end to the U23 campaign, particularly impressive in the play-off final defeat on penalties at Crystal Palace.
Sunderland s preferred route for next season is believed to be in finding a loan move for Patterson, ideally at League Two level.
But with Remi Matthews leaving the club, there could be opportunities in the early stages of pre-season as Johnson revamps his goalkeeping department.
Richardson saw his debut campaign in the U23 group significantly affected by injury, but he returned to begin getting regular gametime towards the end of the season.
As such he will feel he has plenty to prove, but the former Hartlepool United defender is experienced and as it stands, Sunderland have no natural right-backs under contract.
If Luke O'Nien were to depart rather than sign a new deal, that could present an opening in pre-season.
Younger has been one of the key figures in the revival of the U23 side and did himself no harm when called into the senior set up as injuries took their toll.
That was enough to earn him a very deserved extension to the deal he signed last summer and he will be eager to push on even further next season.
An old-fashioned defender who is tenacious and good in the air, he will hope for an opportunity in his natural centre-back position.
Neil was captain of the U23 group last season, a reflection of his outstanding pre-season campaign and his notable decision to turn down the chance of a move elsewhere.
In the second half of the season his senior gametime was limited, but Johnson rates him highly and believes his attributes comparable to Burnley midfielder Josh Brownhill.
"I had a player called Josh Brownhill, who plays for Burnley now,” Johnson said.
“We signed him from Preston and then developed him. I had him at Barnsley on loan, and he developed himself with a great attitude.
“I just see so many similarities between those two players. It’s fascinating for me to see the way they can play it around the corner, which is a bit of a dying art, and have good charisma on the pitch.
“He shoots well in training, he’s got good technique. I think there’s a bit of physical maturation to come, which we know, but what a great player to have in our ranks.”
The 19-year-old has limited senior experience and so a loan move has to be a possibility, but pre-season could give him the chance to stake a claim.
Sunderland's central midfield is in need of a major rebuild and Neil certainly has the talent to capitalise.
Hawkes is one of the players who has been earmarked for a significant role for pre-season and then potentially beyond.
After joining Sunderland following his departure from Hartlepool United last summer, the first year has gone almost perfectly to plan for player and club.
There has been a significant amount of first-team training, and a superb tally of goals and assists in an U23 team whose fortunes were revived in so small part thanks to Hawkes' form.
There has been transfer interest from a number of top-tier clubs, and also from League One rivals Ipswich Town.
Speakman has already said that there will be chances in the early part of next season for Hawkes, with Johnson impressed with the player but clear that this summer is key in terms of his physical development.
After his U23 exploits, Hawkes is one of the players fans are eager to see in pre season.
Both Speakman and Johnson have insisted that Embleton will return to play a key role in the senior squad next season.
Chris Maguire's departure means there is an obvious gap for a youngster comfortable playing either out wide or through the middle.
His loan spell at Blackpool has shown that he is ready for League One football at the very least, but it has also drawn attention from other clubs ahead of the summer window.
Blackpool are interested in a permanent deal and they are not alone.
It's up to Sunderland to convince Embleton that he is key to their plans and from there, up to the 22-year-old to show just how bright a future he could have at the club.
Kimpioka's campaign is still going, as he prepares for a tilt at the National League play-offs with Torquay United.
After a long and unhelpful contract impasse last summer, his form following his belated return to the U23 side was excellent.
Injury curtailed his progress, and next season looks to be an absolutely vital one as he looks to finally break through for good at Sunderland.
Big seasons ahead for....
Patrick Almond - An 18-year-old centre-back who stepped up impressively, producing a superb debut campaign at U23 level
Ellis Taylor - A talented winger who liked Almond has excelled above his age group
Stephen Wearne - Attacking midfielder who had a very solid debut campaign after joining from Middlesbrough
Sam Wilding - A versatile midfielder who played a key part in the run to the U23 play-off final
Will Harris - Stepped up to regularly lead the line after Mitch Curry's departure and scored a key brace against Crystal Palace