The fine work of Sunderland’s academy has been to plain to see this summer.
Jordan Pickford and Jordan Henderson have not only been two of England’s stand-out performers in their run to the semi-finals of the World Cup, but have also been a hallmark for the next generation of Sunderland youngsters to aim for.
The duo were handed senior opportunities by the Black Cats and grasped them with both hands, going on to earn international honours and big-money moves.
But it’s not only in Russia where some products of Wearside have excelled – they have been impressing on home soil too.
Jack Ross has been quick to hand opportunities to youngsters in pre-season and plenty have relished their exposure to senior football.
Several of Sunderland’s academy products have already featured during friendlies, although admittedly that is largely due to a lack of depth within Ross’ squad.
But there is nothing to say that the Scot will not entrust them with a chance when the new League One season kicks-off in August. In fact, prior evidence suggests that it is a distinct possibility.
Having previously worked in the under-20 set-up at Hearts, Ross is well aware of youth development and how vital integrating youngsters into first team football can be.
Now at Sunderland, Ross is continuing to cast an eye over younger players – and that continued in the friendly at Hartlepool which ended 1-1.
Left-back Denver Hume was handed a start after impressing at Darlington and was part of a fairly experienced line-up that began the game.
The defender looked solid as he featured for the whole 90 minutes with his athleticism allowing him to press high up the pitch and support the side during the attacking phase – a trait which Ross highly values.
Hume was certainly playing high up the pitch in the early stages as Sunderland committed plenty of bodies forward and began on the front foot.
But despite that positive start, familiar demons came back to haunt Sunderland.
Yet again, it was a defensive error that saw the visitors fall behind as Love under-hit a pass back to McLaughlin, allowing Niko Muir to steal in and loft a first-time finish over the on-rushing stopper.
And Hartlepool could have doubled their lead too, with former Sunderland man Liam Noble firing an effort into the arms of Jon McLaughlin before Mark Kitching volleyed a deep cross narrowly over the bar.
Lynden Gooch had Sunderland’s best chance to level before the break as he saw a diving header graze the post.
Chances continued to flow after the interval with Josh Maja seeing a fizzing effort tipped over by Loach but with still no breakthrough for Sunderland, Ross turned to some of his youngsters.
On came Andrew Nelson, Brandon Taylor and Benji Kimpioka who – alongside the introductions of the more experienced Chris Maguire and Ethan Robson – provided the Black Cats with a much-needed creative spark.
As Sunderland laid siege on the Hartlepool goal, chances fell to George Honeyman and Maguire whose powerful shot from 12 yards was always rising.
But it was youngster Kimpioka who would eventually find a leveller.
The winger, who has already netted two hat-tricks for the Black Cats’ under-23 side this summer, drilled home from 25 yards after his trickery had opened up some space.
He will naturally draw the headlines and deservedly so. Credit, though, has to go to all of Sunderland’s youngsters. This was an opportunity to impress, to get themselves noticed and stake a claim for a place in Ross’ squad.
Ross will likely hand some youngsters a chance this season and, whenever and whoever that may be, they will be keen to deliver.
And if they do, it will be yet another success story for Sunderland’s thriving academy.