TWO of Sunderland’s most promising young players – Louis Laing and Ryan Noble – will be given their chance at the Peace Cup in South Korea next month to stake a claim to become first-team regulars.
But even if the duo catch the eye of manager Martin O’Neill during this pre-season jaunt, they will almost certainly still be sent out on loan for at least the first half of the upcoming campaign.
As reward for their hard work, O’Neill has decided to take the pair on the trip the Far East in July along with the established first-team squad, which means this is a vitally important month for both of them who have a year left on their respective contracts.
Sunderland will play two games in South Korea, on July 19 and 22, firstly against local club Seongnam and then either Dutch side Groningen or Germany’s Hamburg in what will either be a final or a third place play-off.
In truth, it is a chance of all Sunderland players, both young and older, to make a good impression on a manager who is notoriously difficult to please and is looking to bring in at least half a dozen new faces.
Noble, 21, is a striker and product of the club’s youth academy, while highly-rated central defender Laing is still only 19, despite having been with the Black Cats since 2009.
O’Neill will spend money over the next month to improve the quality and depth of a squad that was clearly stretched to the limit towards the end of last season.
But this does not mean that the club’s better youth players will not be given an opportunity, even if they have to show a bit more patience before they get a prolonged run in the team. The Journal understands that Hartlepool United and Leeds are interested in taking on Noble on a temporary basis once more, while teenager Laing is being chased by a number of Championship and League One sides.
Laing, who can also play as a defensive midfielder, made his first-team debut against Wolves in May 2011 and has featured for the England Under-17 and Under-19 squads.
His early career was hampered by injury when he first joined Sunderland, but he has still managed to play almost 60 games in three years for the youth and reserve teams.
Laing was loaned out to Wycombe Wanderers in the second half of last season. The deal was originally only for a month, but Wycombe boss Gary Waddock was so impressed that he extended his contract.
Noble has recovered well from a hernia operation in January and has earned a reputation as a keen goalscorer with the reserves. He scored 11 goals in as many games during the 2010-11 season for the second string.
Noble also topped the scoring charts the year before by hitting the net a dozen times from nine starts with the reserves.
The England Under-19 international made his senior debut for Sunderland by Steve Bruce as a substitute during the FA Cup tie against Barrow in January 2010.
He has made six first-team appearances in total, but has yet to figure under O’Neill. Noble had temporary spells with Watford and Derby County, whom he joined twice, in the two seasons before last, but injury restricted him to just three League appearances with the latter. He joined Hartlepool on loan in March of this year. scoring twice in nine League One starts.
O’Neill was desperate to give more younger players a run in the team towards the end of the season, but was reluctant to do so as results and performances dipped as he did not feel it would be of great benefit to throw in raw kids to a struggling team.