Where the Sunderland youngsters who have featured in pre-season currently stand and their crucial next steps
While all eyes at Hearts were on new signings Callum Doyle and Corry Evans, it was equally as pleasing to see a number of the Sunderland’s under-23 side handed a chance to shine.
After reaching the Premier League 2 promotion play-off final last season, there are hopes that a number of the club’s second string could make a successful transition to the first-team.
And given Sunderland’s squad are currently low on numbers, the young players have an ideal opportunity to impress in the short-term.
So what is the current state of play with those involved in the early pre-season friendlies, and what could be the next steps for them? We take a look...
The young stopper started the game at Hearts on Saturday and, while there were a couple of nervy moments when he came for crosses, it was a fairly comfortable performance from Patterson.
Bigger tests undoubtedly await, with Hearts failing to seriously test the 21-year-old at Tynecastle, and it will be interesting to see how Patterson stands up to some real scrutiny.
Those opportunities will undoubtedly come at some point this season, with Patterson set to remain with the first-team group throughout the campaign.
While it is not completely out of the question that Sunderland will sign another goalkeeper and look to send Patterson out on loan, the current focus is elsewhere.
So for the short-term at least, there is a real chance for the young stopper.
Richardson was unavailable for the pre-season opener against Spennymoor Town but returned against Hearts – featuring off the bench as Sunderland comfortably saw out victory.
Further pre-season opportunities are likely for the 22-year-old given the club’s current lack of full-back options.
And it will be interesting to
While there has rightfully been plenty of focus on Josh Hawkes, his former Hartlepool United teammate Richardson is a player at a similar stage in his career.
He too has some senior experience under his belt and is approaching the point where he will look to try and establish himself as a first-team regular.
An opportunity may present itself for the right-back to do just that in pre-season, and he will be hoping for more minutes in the coming weeks.
It was difficult to judge his performance level at Hearts given the limited amount of time he spent on the field, but the chances are that he will feature in some capacity in Sunderland’s upcoming games.
Dyce started the game at Hearts having also played the second 45 minutes at Spennymoor Town.
While there were some encouraging moments where the left-back looked to help drive Sunderland forward, he looked understandably raw.
The club’s transfer team are targeting a new left-back this summer, while hopes remain high that Denver Hume will pen a new contract.
So while Dyce may receive some more opportunities in the short-term, it seems unlikely that he will be a regular player in the first-team fold this season.
He was signed for the club’s under-23 side and it looks as if he will begin the season there.
Having now recovered fully from COVID, Younger is set to feature in the remainder of the club’s pre-season fixtures.
He was a standout in the under-23 side last term and held his own on the occasions where he was called into the first-team fold too – and there will be hopes that he can continue to make a positive impression moving forward.
Sunderland are understood to still be searching for another central defender to challenge Bailey Wright, Tom Flanagan and Callum Doyle.
But with Arbenit Xhemajli still recovering from a serious knee injury, there is a good chance that Younger will be involved in the first-team squad until the Kosovan nears a full return.
From then on, it will be down to the former Burnley man to prove why he deserves to stay there.
Another key part of the successful under-23 side during the 2020/21 season, Wilding has trained with the first-team squad during the early weeks of pre-season.
But given Sunderland’s growing number of options in the centre of midfield, it looks unlikely that this will be a long-term arrangement.
Much can change, of course, but with Alex Pritchard and Corry Evans now on the books - and another midfielder being sought – Wilding is likely to begin the season in Premier League 2.
The decision facing Sunderland over Neil is an interesting one.
After a successful pre-season last year, it was a disappointment that the youngster was not handed more of an opportunity during the early weeks of the League One campaign.
This time around, however, it looks as if Neil will be given every opportunity to continue making his mark on the first-team.
Lee Johnson has already said that his current thought process consists of keeping Neil with the senior group until Christmas and re-evaluating at that point.
That will give the academy graduate plenty of opportunity to make the desired impact.
Another player who is held in high regard by the current regime, Taylor impressed from the bench at Spennymoor and scored a well-taken goal in the second half.
He had limited scope to impress at Hearts but will be hopeful of further chances as pre-season continues.
The winger is another player who may begin the season with the under-23 crop while being monitored closely.
But given he was playing under-18 football for much of last season, a season playing regularly in Premier League 2 may do the exciting youngster no harm.