Kevin Phillips has tipped Sunderland midfielder Josh Hawkes to “make an impact” on the first team next season.
Speaking exclusively to Football Insider, the Stadium of Light legend claimed the 22-year-old is of “the perfect age” to make the step up and suggested coaching staff have held a number of meetings about the player.
Hawkes has been in electric form for the Black Cats’ Under-23s this season, with his 17 appearances in Premier League 2 division 2 yielding 11 goals and five assists.
As quoted by the Sunderland Echo, Johnson heaped praise on the attacking midfielder and hinted at a first team call-up if he develops physically over the summer.
Phillips tipped Hawkes to go out on loan if he does not get promoted to the first team next season.
“He is at the perfect age to come into the first team,” he told Football Insider.
“Whether Sunderland are in League One or the Championship you need to give your young players an opportunity.
“Only Lee Johnson can make that decision but I would expect him to be involved next season. They need to start blooding these young talented players.
“His numbers for the Under-23s speak for themselves and I am sure he has the potential to make an impact next year. I am sure he is being talked about in meetings at the training ground.
“Listen, if he does not get a sniff around the first team next season he needs to go out on loan. I’d like to see him given his chance next season.
“There are a few senior players who will be moving on in the summer so he might get an opportunity.”
Speaking on Hawkes’ performances in training, Johnson said: “I think Josh has got some great qualities.
“His end product is up there, if we’re doing a crossing and finishing session.”