Danny Graham could be set for the January exit door but he has been hailed a “big influence” on Sunderland’s younger players.
The 30-year-old striker was a surprise inclusion in the Under-21 line-up for their European tie with Athletic Bilbao, alongside Patrick van Aanholt.
He is a big influence and is a good example.Andy Welsh
And Graham – who has started just three first team games this campaign – starred in the win, scoring on his way to a man of the match performance.
Under-21 boss Andy Welsh believes the “work-rate, desire and commitment” Graham showed should serve as an example of how to make it in the professional game.
Gateshead-born Graham is in the final year of his contract at the Stadium of Light and could be among those to leave in January as Sam Allardyce looks to re-jig his squad.
“Danny Graham was top class against Athletic Bilbao in terms of workrate and desire,” Welsh said.
“He had a couple of chances towards the end as well.
“It was an excellent performance and he led the line superbly alongside Mika [Mandron].
“Those players that have been down to the Under-21s recently, including Adam Johnson who had a couple of games a few months ago, have all been terrific.
“The way they go about the task is excellent.
“And the work-rate and effort shown by Danny against Bilbao was excellent and a fantastic testament to a good professional footballer.
“He really wanted to do well and did do. He is a big influence and is a good example.
“We all have to be like that.”
Van Aanholt impressed going forward against the Under-23 Spanish outfit – winning the penalty that won Sunderland the game – but struggled defensively.
Welsh, though, was pleased with his work-rate as the club progressed to the quarter final stage of the Premier League International Cup.
“Patrick works extremely hard and he got the penalty,” added Welsh.
“I played him in behind (Tommy) Robson, our normal left-back, and then moved Patrick further forward in the last 10-15 minutes when he won the penalty.
“I was more than happy with the late decision to change it and get the win.
“The Under-21s have done really well and they are a great group to work with.
“We have worked very hard at having the desire and the work-rate and we have worked on the organisational skills a lot.
“That has shown out on the field and we have only had two defeats in 25 games – that is a good record at any level.”
Sunderland’s quarter-final opponents will be either Villarreal, Leicester City or PSV Eindhoven.
The knock-out stages are played as single-leg ties in England.