Sam Allardyce is keen to bring through Sunderland's young players
Sam Allardyce's task when he was appointed manager of Sunderland back in October was clear - keep the club in the Premier League.
Hopes have been raised after the Black Cats picked up a point against Liverpool at Anfield and all three at home to Manchester United.
They are now within a point of safety with 12 games remaining but the club’s position in the top flight remains perilous.
Allardyce, to his credit, isn’t just focusing on the club’s short-term objectives though.
Despite the struggles of this season he hasn’t been afraid to bring through the next generation, with the 61-year-old making a conscious effort to build for the future too.
Highly-sought after young talents Duncan Watmore and Jordan Pickford, regulars in the first team squad, were quickly tied down to new long-term deals, with both committing themselves to Sunderland until 2020.
Shrewd business by Sunderland, with Premier League vultures circling.
Those two have shared their fair amount of column inches in recent months but there is even more talent waiting in the Under-21 wings, ready to burst onto the scene.
And promising attacking midfielder George Honeyman, named on the bench for the visit of Manchester United, says there has never been a better opportunity to get a first team chance.
Honeyman said: “I’ve been at Sunderland since I was 11 and we have had a lot of different managers and things change with each one.
“Under the gaffer at the moment there is a better pathway than there has been to get into the first team squad.
“People like Robbie Stockdale [first team coach] and Paul Bracewell [assistant manager], who we have all worked with at Under-21 level, are now involved with the first team.
“Our gaffer [Andy Welsh] and Ged [McNamee, academy manager] are always backing us to go up there and that really helps.
“Duncan Watmore proves it.
“He was with us last year and it just shows if you put in performances then you do get noticed and there is a lot of contact with the first team and coaches.
“It is down to yourself at the end of the day, if you are good enough, you will get a chance.”
That view is echoed by Under-21 boss Welsh, who praised Allardyce for his efforts in integrating the younger players with the first team squad on matchdays and in training sessions at the Academy of Light.
“It has been great,” Welsh said.
“To be fair to Sam we do train regularly with the first team group and George was on the bench against Manchester United on Saturday.
“Thomas Robson, at left-back, and Rees Greenwood both got changed and warmed up with the first team at the Stadium of Light too in order to give them that match experience and to see what their temperament is like.
“We regularly train together and that can only enhance the club in general and it points towards an excellent future.”
And 21-year-old Honeyman, from Prudhoe, is among those with a bright future in the game.
He starred in the Under-21s win over Middlesbrough, a victory which keeps alive their title hopes, with the young Cats keeping pace with leaders Manchester United who are two points clear.
His long-term future looks to be at Sunderland but he admits taking advantage of a loan move can be beneficial to young players.
“It can benefit you a lot but it has to be right,” added Honeyman.
“There is no point me going to a long ball team because that is not my game.
“It has to be right for the player, if a club really wants you and you are going to be playing then it is all good.
“Some clubs just look at how much experience you have got, no matter how well you are playing for the Under 21s.
“Sometimes, if you don’t have experience of the league then you will find it tough to get into their first team.
“But if it is right for all the parties then it is definitely a beneficial system,” added Honeyman, who enjoyed a loan spell with Conference side Gateshead at the end of last year.
Honeyman was handed his first team debut as a late sub by Gus Poyet in last year’s FA Cup upset at Bradford.