Sunderland must allay Phil Parkinson’s fears of stunting Josh Hawkes’ development and strive to field the talented Under 23s forward in Saturday’s FA Cup First Round clash with Mansfield Town.
Hawkes has been lighting up the youth scene this season but is yet to be offered a chance at a higher level, with Parkinson thus far opting to overlook the 21-year-old for each Black Cats squad in League One, the EFL Cup and EFL Trophy.
Elliott Dickman was without Hawkes for Friday’s U23s win over Wolverhampton Wanders, though the expectation is that Parkinson will wait until Tuesday’s Papa John’s Trophy showdown with Fleetwood Town before utilising his rising star.
Sunderland have already secured their place in the next round of the EFL Trophy, allowing for Parkinson to rest some senior players away to the Fisherman, and the Black Cats boss confirmed that his thinking is currently not on Saturday’s FA Cup clash.
“Realistically, that Tuesday game, our thoughts at the moment are that because we’ve already qualified, and because a lot of the lads have done well in the U23s, we need to see if they can make that next step up,” he said, via quotes by the Sunderland Echo.
Parkinson has been reluctant to trust Hawkes so far this season, despite the forward striking 13 goals in 63 appearances for Hartlepool United before joining Sunderland this summer against rival interest from Sporting Braga, Burnley and Sheffield United among an array of sides.
The Black Cats boss has noted that his fears are based in stinting Hawkes’ progress by taking him away from the U23s to train with the first-team, adding: “He’s played at National League level, done well, got goals. The downside, of course, is that we sometimes take players away from that U23 team when they play.
“The most important thing is that transition for these players, between the U23s and senior football.”
But Sunderland must be ready to offer Hawkes his chance to impress and quell Parkinson’s fears, as an impressive showing at home to Mansfield on Saturday afternoon will offer the Black Cats a far better assessment of whether the 21-year-old is ready for League One football.
Sunderland Echo journalist Phil Smith also noted earlier in the summer during a Q&A that Hawkes’ signing represented a change in approach for Sunderland, by targeting players that can make the step up from U23s to the first-team. Though Parkinson may have missed that memo if he continues to ignore the forward’s potential.
“Josh Hawkes has been signed primarily as an U23 player,” Smith said. “So, he will to have impress in that side before he gets an opportunity with the senior group.
“He very much represents the change in approach, though, in that he’s a player who they think can bridge the gap between the U23 and senior groups, over time.”
Hawkes’ efforts in the National League suggested he is ready for the next step up, otherwise top-flight sides would not have shown an interest. It only remains to be seen how true to Sunderland’s intentions Parkinson remains in the coming days.