embleton-on-promotion,-sunderland-hopes-and-boyhood-dreams

Embleton on promotion, Sunderland hopes and boyhood dreams

It was an unusual situation to say the least.

Sunderland made last season’s Sky Bet League One play-offs, and Sunderland midfielder Elliot Embleton won promotion from last season’s Sky Bet League One play-offs.

The problem for the Black Cats? He did it playing for Blackpool, after joining them on loan midway through the season.

“It was strange,” Embleton tells Sky Sports. “When I joined Blackpool they were like 15th in the league, and then we had that run of games to get into the play-offs.

“And it was like, ‘are Sunderland going to get Blackpool in the semi-final or the final?’ We just had to see what happened.

“I didn’t really think about it because I knew I couldn’t play in the league games. But going into the play-offs it was more about getting the minutes into my legs, and playing in all the games. It was nice to play, but I always knew if Sunderland got [to the final] I wouldn’t have been able to.”

Embleton had been loaned out for experience after injury problems had halted his development. Whether Sunderland would have lent him to a club that would go on to win promotion from the same league, while the Black Cats exited at the semi-final stage, is a discussion for another day.

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Embleton won promotion with Blackpool via the play-offs earlier this year

There is no doubt, however, that Embleton has returned to the Stadium of Light this season looking a totally different player. The 22-year-old is more confident, more composed, and making more of an impact in a side that are second in the table and trying to escape League One at the fourth time of asking.

He may not have been around to help Sunderland’s promotion push in the second half of last season, but that experience is certainly helping them now. And there was never a doubt he always wanted to return.

“It was a massive thing for me to play in a promotion side in this league,” he says.

“The promotion helped with the confidence. And playing games, that’s what helps to develop you. I had a good manager [at Blackpool] who helped develop me tactically, and we had a good run of 16 games unbeaten, so everything was good there.

“Playing 20-plus games, playing every week for two months straight, winning games, getting assists and scoring a few goals here and there. It was a massive boost.

“Hopefully coming back into Sunderland now I can use that experience here. I’ve been here since I was six or seven. It’s my club, I want to play here. It’s my hometown and my family all support Sunderland. So to see me playing for their team is a big thing.”

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Embleton celebrates scoring his first goal at the Stadium of Light in August

A season-ticket holder at the Stadium of Light as a child, Embleton had dreamt of one day celebrating in front of the crowd he used to be a part of.

That dream really came true in August when he scored his first home goal for Sunderland – a strike that won him the Sky Bet League One Goal of the Month award. With his family in attendance, it was a special moment.

“It was my first goal at the Stadium of Light as well, in front of 30,000 fans,” he says. “I’ve been here since I was seven years old so it was a massive achievement for me.

“I never knew how I’d celebrate it, but when it went in and I heard the atmosphere from the crowd, it was bouncing.

“I had a season ticket from when I was nine or 10 and obviously the atmosphere was amazing back then. Scoring in front of the crowd was even better. I just ran in any direction I could, [my family] were all there at the game, and it was a proud moment for them.”

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Highlights of the Sky Bet League One match between Portsmouth and Sunderland.

One of the most spectacular things about the goal, however, was the way he bent it in from the edge of the box with his left foot. It showed the talent of the 22-year-old, as eagle-eyed observers will remember him scoring one very similar in last season’s play-offs – but on that occasion he cut in from the other side and netted it with his right.

It takes some talent to pull that strike off with either foot.

“It came naturally and with practice,” Embleton says. “I could always use both feet. To go both ways is a very useful skill to have.

“I used to go with my dad as a four or five-year-old and practice with my right foot and my left foot, making sure I could do everything with both feet. And it’s just stuck with me.”

It was probably that talent as a youngster that caught the eye of the England youth sides. Embleton played for every age group from the under-17s to the under-20s, and featured alongside some of the young stars who currently occupy places in Gareth Southgate’s squad.

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Embleton in action for England’s youth side in 2017

“It was unbelievable playing for your country, and representing them was a massive thing for me. It’s the best players of your age in the country. I learned a lot and it was great.

“There were some very, very good players. Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jadon Sancho. It was crazy watching them play for England’s first team [at the Euros] but they’ve got the quality so I wasn’t surprised.

“I would love to go on and play international football if I can develop and keep working hard. Hopefully I can get a chance. People who have played even lower than league football go on to play for their country. I’m still only 22, so let’s see what happens.”

For now, however, Embleton just wants to help get his hometown club back to the Championship, having been witness to their dramatic drop from the Premier League.

He has done it once with Blackpool, and there is no reason why he can’t do it again.

“It has been difficult,” he admits. “We are in League One but we get 30,000 fans. It shows how big the club is and hopefully we can start climbing the leagues again.

“For me personally and for the club it would be massive. And for the fans. They want us to get back to where they are, and where we should be.”