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SUNDERLAND'S struggles have been a double-edged sword for George Honeyman.

The homegrown Academy product joined the club at the age of 10, and no-one has been more disappointed to see the club in the lower reaches of the Championship and fighting to stave off back-to-back relegations.

But at the same time, Sunderland's reduced circumstances have opened the door for Honeyman to achieve his lifetime ambition of becoming a first-team regular on Wearside.

Honeyman made his first-team debut at the age of 20 under Gus Poyet almost three years ago, but made only a handful of league appearances over the next two seasons.

It has been a different story for the Prudhoe-born midfielder this term, however, as he has featured in more league games than any other Sunderland player, and has also contributed four goals in all competitions. "I have been very lucky," said the 23-year-old. "The position is not where I want to see the club, but for me personally, because of the lack of players and the injuries, it has helped me play a lot of games.

"If someone had told me a year ago I would have played this much I'd have laughed.

"I would love the club to be doing better but to be playing as often as I am I am delighted because I have been striving for this almost all my life.

"To have played the most games, I am really honoured. At the start of the season my goal was to just stay in the team.

"I want the team to be doing better and I am sure that will happen, but personally I want to the second half to go as well as the first from a playing point of view."

Honeyman admits that, prior to this season, the thought had crossed his mind that he might have to leave in search of first-team football.

But his decision to stay is now paying dividends.

He said: "If I hadn't thought about that [leaving] then I wouldn't have the right desire to be a footballer. I was 21, 22, I had made my debut at 20 but that was just a couple of minutes and then I was out the picture. "It is hard to stay in the picture with so many different managers as a young lad.

"I would have been stupid if I hadn't had contingency plans in place but I never gave up believing I was good enough to help Sunderland.

"The hard work has paid off in the end."

Honeyman is not the only beneficiary of Sunderland's lack of transfer funds and lengthy injury list.

He was one of four Academy graduates - the others being Joel Asoro, Josh Maja, and Ethan Robson - in the starting line-up in the weekend win over Hull City with a fifth, Lynden Gooch, coming on as a substitute.

Honeyman said: "I felt proud coming off with a 1-0 win with five young lads on the pitch. I know the academy got a lot of stick for a while when there wasn't any players in the first team, so there will be a lot of people at this club pleased to see us all on the pitch together.

"We had Jack Colback come through and then no-one else for a while, then Jordan Henderson and then a few seasons later Jordan Pickford.

"But it's hard when you are in the Premier League for managers to turn to the young ones, it's like you have to be some player for the manager to turn to you at that level and throw you in.

"I have always had belief in the academy, I think we are all very grateful for those that have helped us."

Sunderland are still working to bring in reinforcements this month, but they will still need their talented youngsters to play a part as they battle for survival and Honeyman is convinced they have what it takes.

He said: ""If you don't think that then we are already struggling.

"There is a belief we are better than where we are in the table.

"Performances and results have picked up with the new manager. We are adapting still to the way he wants to play, we have five clean sheets in 11 and we hadn't got any before that, so we are improving and we are confident we can get out of this."
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 25, 2018
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