Where Are They Now? The Lads From Sunderland U21’s First Checkatrade Trophy Game


The year of Brexit, Donald Trump, David Moyes, and all those household names dying every other day.


On reflection, that all sounds like a state of Paradise Lost compared to our daily lives now.

Back when we were allowed to watch football in the ground, go for a beer and hug your mam, myself and around 500 fellow Sunderland supporters made the trip to Spotland on a pleasant Autumn evening. For this was our debut in the revamped Checkatrade Trophy as our under 21’s took on Rochdale.

Michael Lough takes us back…

This was the first season that clubs with Category One academies could enter their under 21’s into what was always traditionally a cup for the bottom two divisions. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the new format, or the idea that a smaller club could be deprived of a big day out at Wembley (lol), but unless we drew sides like Rochdale in the FA Cup, when was I realistically gonna get the opportunity to tick their ground off the list? (double lol).

Owing to the strange nature of the competition’s rules, Sunderland gained a point from the game despite a 4-2 penalty shootout defeat, after the game had finished 1-1 in 90 minutes.

Elliott Embleton gave the lads the lead on the night and the Sunderland side featured a sweet, sweet combination of just men, a future Champions League semi-finalist, and lads who would go on to make varying impacts at first team level…

…oh and over a quarter of our starting X1 had the same surname!

So where are they now I hear you ask? You did ask, didn’t you? Yeah I thought you did.

Well dear friends, look no further, for after some extensive research (typed their names into Google), we can look back at that historic evening as I have compiled this handy list for you all.

So sit back, pour yourself a cup of tea and read on…

Max Stryjek

Stryjek was widely tipped to break into the Sunderland first team, particularly during the 17-18 season, as Jason Steele, Robbin Ruitter and Lee Camp were diligently compiling SAFC’s very own inhouse Own Goals and Gaffes compilation. However, the Polish ‘keeper never made a league appearance in Red and White and following loan spells at Boston United, Accrington Stanley and Eastleigh, he was released in the summer of 2019.

He went on to join Stewart Donald and Richard Hill’s former band of Merry Men on a permanent deal. He recently went to Livingston on a three year deal and made an instant impact when he produced a vital late save to secure a point for Livi against table-topping Rangers.

Joshua Robson aka Robson Number One

The Bedlington born full-back left Sunderland in 2018 and joined Norwegian Second Division side, Notodden FK on a free transfer where he remained until the summer of 2020. He is still plying his trade in Norway, now at Byrne FK, who currently top their country’s third tier.

The third tier? Ha! Losers.

Thomas Robson aka Robson Number Two

After a short loan spell with Limerick, Robson joined Falkirk after his departure from Sunderland in 2018, his spell with The Bairns yielding two goals in 39 appearances. In the summer of 2019 he left Falkirk to join Partick Thistle where he made 16 appearances before transferring to Queens Park for the start of this season.

Michael Ledger

Ledger was a team mate of Josh Robson at Notodden FK for the best part of two seasons, it is not clear if they tried to sign any more Robsons. He returned to British shores in 2019 where he has turned out for Queen of the South and Greenock Morton.

Jason Denayer

The Belgan arrived on Wearside from Man City with a good reputation after impressive loan spells at Celtic and Galatasaray. But Dr Death himself, David Moyes, failed to get the best out of the youngster and after a season of either being played out of position, or generally just not looking that interested, he returned to Galatasaray before eventually joining Lyon, who he reached the Champions League semi-final with in 2020.

Ethan Robson aka Robson Number Three

Ah, Ethan Robson. Remember that time we recalled him from his loan spell at Grimsby for him to then make *checks notes* zero appearances for the first team? Soon after, Covid-19 put pay to his first team prospects on Wearside. Ironically, if we had still been a Premier League club when his contract expired, he would have been released without too much fuss. But the club’s ever worsening position saw Robson secure a contract extension in 2018, after a handful of good displays, most notably in a 1-0 win over Hull in January of that year.

Robson failed to gain a contract extension at the end of the 19/20 season and joined Blackpool.

Jan Kirchhoff

Oh Jan, how I wish things had turned out differently. How I wish you weren’t made of glass, how I wish David Moyes treated you properly and didn’t try and get 90 minutes out of you when you were only capable of 60. How I wish those glorious few months under Sam Allardyce could have lasted forever, you glorious German dream boat.
How I wish I could go back and watch you dispossess opponents with ease and plonk the ball about for fun.

Alas, some things are not meant to be and after making just seven appearances throughout the 16/17 season, he was released upon the expiration of his contract. After a brief spell with Bolton Wanderers in 2018, he returned to Germany where he has turned out for 1. FC Magdeburg and KFC Uerdingen 05 in the third tier of German football.

The third tier? Ha! Losers.

Elliot Embleton

The only player from this historic line up who is still at the club. Since being in first team contention, however, the Durham born midfielder has made just five first team appearances for the lads during an injury plagued 12 months. Embleton remains highly rated by players and fans alike, but if he is to have a long term future on Wearside, he must put his injury problems behind him and get a run in the team.

George Honeyman

Another player who benefitted from Sunderland’s slide down the leagues, Honeyman was a rare bright spot during our 2017/18 relegation campaign, scoring seven goals in all competitions. He was named captain ahead of the 18/19 season and despite dividing opinion amongst the fans, his effort and commitment could never be questioned. After a season in the Championship with Hull, he finds himself back in the third tier, the same league as Sunderland, following the Tigers’ relegation.

The third tier? Ha… oh!!

Rees Greenwood

After impressing as a youth team player, Greenwood featured in Sunderland’s 2-2 draw with Watford on the final day of the Premier League 2015/16 season. Sadly, he didn’t live up to his potential and left for Gateshead in January 2018. Greenwood made just eight appearances for The Heed before signing for Falkirk, where he played four times prior to his release in October 2018. Spells at Spennymoor and West Auckland followed and he looked destined for a career of floating around the lower echelons of north east football. But he recently made a surprise transfer to Al-Sahel, a newly formed team in the UAE Second Division League.

Joshua Maja

A player who’s story doesn’t really need telling, if he’d stayed just six months longer we’d have probably won the the third tier at the first attempt and God knows what would have happened after that. He left for Bordeaux where he scored 6 goals in 22 games during the 2019/20 season and has already got off the mark this campaign.


Andrew Nelson
After a number of loan spells, Nelson permanently left Sunderland in 2019 for Dundee where he scored 6 goals in 31 games. He now plies his trade at Torquay United.

Luke Molyneux

Molyneux enjoyed a spell on the fringes of the first team after making his debut against Wolves on the final day of the 17/18 season. After finding first team opportunities limited, he was loaned out to Hartlepool who he permanently joined in the summer of 2019. He then struggled with injury for much of the campaign.

Tom Beadling

Despite being highly rated, Beadling never made a single appearance in Red and White and joined Dunfermline after a successful loan spell. He is now back in England with newly promoted Barrow.

George Brady

The nephew of West Ham owner and Apprentice star Karren Brady…no, really…he is, Brady joined Sunderland from Chelsea in 2015. He was released by us in 2017 and doesn’t appear to have found a club since. We’d love to know what he’s doing now. He’s possibly Director of Football for West Ham or something.

Dan Casey

After he left Sunderland, Casey has enjoyed three seasons in Ireland, with two spells at Bohemians sandwiching a season at Cork City.

Oliver Pain

If George Brady escapes ‘just a man’ status through his famous relation, there’s no such luck for Oliver Pain. Pain currently plies his trade at Chipstead FC in the Isthmian League. Although I did find a photo of him saving a shot against the Mags under 18’s on google, so he’ll always have that.

Daniel Wright

Upon leaving Sunderland, Wright joined his hometown club, South Shields and has remained there ever since.