Sunderland at academy crossroads after poor start to Premier League 2 campaign

Sunderland suffered another road defeat in a close affair against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League Cup. It means Graeme Murty’s side are still in search of their first win of the competition after two rounds of matches.

Young Black Cats have won just twice in the league this season, with two other draws in Premier League 2 Division 2. The club finished second in the league last year and so far have not showed little indication of reaching the heights of their play-off campaign in 2020-21.

It was quite a fall from grace for Sunderland at national youth level. While the club have produced Anthony Patterson, Dan Neil, Elliot Embleton and Jack Diamond in recent years, the Under-21s as a collective have struggled in the league format.

READ MORE: Sunderland fall to narrow loss to Wolves in Premier League Cup

The arrival of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus promised a clear path and a holistic development program for youngsters to reach first-team level, but we have yet to see a new wave of youngsters entering the squad. first. Michael Spellman was given an opportunity against Sheffield on Wednesday in the Carabao Cup but opportunities have been limited since then.

Tony Mowbray was also reluctant to bring in any of the young forwards, with Max Thompson notably named, in the absence of Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms. It’s hard to be overly critical of youngsters still learning their craft and under Murty there have been clear signs of improvement, but something is missing.

Winning games creates a positive atmosphere and even with the inclusion of first-team players results have been hard to come by. That’s no small feat for the new head of development, who’s only been in the job for a few weeks and has underscored what a winner he is.

The results are undoubtedly frustrating for him, the players and the staff at the club. So where is the problem?

The club have signed youngsters from abroad for the first team and the frequency with which they drop to play has been one of the pleasant aspects of this season. It’s the right way for the club to approach the competition.

By playing against the best from week to week, this will in turn improve the level and caliber of those already at the club, while maintaining the standards. It’s probably a fair comment to say that recruitment for the Under-21s hasn’t been up to snuff, but with Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and others aspiring for young talent, it’s a difficult balance exercise.

Sunderland are unable to compete with these types of clubs, and the investment in Newcastle will only make local recruitment that bit more difficult. So with under 18s flying and people like Tommy Watson and Chris Rigg Going through the system, it’s important that the Black Cats are able to retain their brilliant talents, while improving the team as a whole.

The club have shown a concentrated effort to rebuild the academy after years of asset stripping, according to Louis Dreyfus and it will take time. But it feels like a crossroads moment.

Sometimes the Under-21s look like they can compete with the best, like Leeds United who have a growing reputation in the game for creating first-team lanes for their academy prospects, and other times they really have to. wrong. There is hope that over time the path will become clearer and the results will follow.

The nature of youth football and player turnover make it such a difficult act to predict.