Whatever happens at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this afternoon it will be an unusual situation for Sunderland’s academy captain Ellis Taylor.

After almost 12 years representing Sunderland across various age groups from the age of nine, Taylor will pull on a Sunderland shirt for the final time when Graeme Murty’s under-21s take on Tottenham Hotspur in the final of the Premier League 2 play-offs before leaving the club he has called home in the summer.

Taylor was one of 11 academy players to receive the news that their contracts would not be extended beyond the end of the season with the likes of Ben Creamer, Connor Pye, Michael Spellman and Harry Gardiner joining the 21-year-old, and first team players Corry Evans and Bradley Dack, in leaving the club. But Taylor has the unique opportunity of being able to go out on an unprecedented high when he leads his team out in North London for the final time this afternoon.

Taylor has bounced back from adversity, both on and off the field, over the course of the last 18 months and has spearheaded Sunderland’s academy side to incredible success this season in the reformatted Premier League 2.

Having faced the prospect of another season in Division Two of Premier League 2, the restructuring has allowed Murty’s team to go head-to-head with some of the best academies in the country where they have more than held their own in securing a seventh placed finish in the league table over a 20-game season, winning 10 and losing just six times.

It’s a campaign which has yielded huge success in finishing above the likes of Liverpool and previous Premier League 2 Division One winners Manchester’s City and United, and Everton and Division Two winners Fulham, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Middlesbrough and Leeds United. It’s a season which has provided international competition next season and a season which has created a number of potential stars of the future – stars who Taylor believes can help make him ‘the happiest man ever’ if they are to finish the job against Spurs on Sunday and claim Premier League 2 glory.




“I always tell the lads how it’s an absolute pleasure to play with some of the people within that group,” said Taylor. “Some of them are going to go and have a good, long career and I just hope, for now, we can go on and win it. That would make me the happiest man ever. It would be a great send off.

“It’s hard to put it into words, really,” Taylor added of Sunderland’s success at youth level this season. “The lads have been outstanding and we’ve deserved it.

“It’s the place I’ve been at since I was young and I’ve got nothing but love and respect for the club and the people around it. It’ll be an absolute pleasure to take the club to the final as captain and win – that’s the ultimate goal for me. It’d be an amazing send off for me.”

Taylor has made over 70 appearances across Sunderland’s under-18s, under-21s and senior first team squad during his time with the club, having also been an unused substitute on 25 occasions at first team level.

Taylor made his senior debut in a League Cup tie against Port Vale in 2021 and remained on the fringes of the first team squad during spells of the club’s time in League One before an unsuccessful loan move to boyhood club Hartlepool United in the summer of 2022 where he made just eight appearances. Taylor suffered personal anguish away from football with the loss of his father where the infrastructure at the Academy of Light became integral to the next stage of his career and, ultimately, what we have seen from him this season.

We Are Sunderland: Ellis Taylor has captained Sunderland's under-21s to the Premier League 2 play-off finalEllis Taylor has captained Sunderland's under-21s to the Premier League 2 play-off final (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Taylor was handed the captain’s armband and has not shirked the responsibility which comes with that, aiding his team with five goals and two assists across 12 Premier League 2 appearances this season before scoring four times in Sunderland’s play-off run to end the season, including Monday’s incredible hat-trick at Reading in the semi-final – a feat acknowledged by first team captain Luke O’Nien.

“Wand of a left foot and the most consistent trainer for the first team this season @EllisTaylor21,” O’Nien wrote via social media. “No surprise he just scored a hat-trick and taken @AcademyOfLight into the Premier league 2 play-off final. Well done my friend. Future is bright.”

“It’s really important for him and his career because he’s a great person to work with and he’s a good player,” academy head coach Murty added of Taylor. “His attitude and his drive and his personality transmits itself to the group so for us, as coaches, he’s been really good to have in the group.”

Taylor’s success with Sunderland’s academy is distinct, even if based upon his longevity within the club’s ranks from a young age. And while achieving the ultimate goal of beating Tottenham at the third time of asking this season, having lost in both the league and Premier League Cup to Wayne Burnett’s side at Eppleton Colliery this season, his exit is a reminder of the ruthless nature of academy football.

“This club has demonstrated if we feel it’s right for individuals we’ll give them opportunities,” interim head coach Mike Dodds recently said of Sunderland’s young players. “They’ve demonstrated that in terms of Dan Neil, Anthony Patterson and Chris Rigg this year.

We Are Sunderland: Ellis Taylor will play his final game for Sunderland against Tottenham HotspurEllis Taylor will play his final game for Sunderland against Tottenham Hotspur (Image: Sunderland AFC)

“You don’t know who you’re going to see, but you hope next year you might see a Harrison Jones, Zak Johnson has gone out on loan, Matty Young has done really well at Darlington, so there is a lovely little underbed of young players. But, unfortunately, the industry is ruthless.

“That’s what the industry is and all young players have to realise they’ve got to be better than the next person and sometimes there’s two or three people in your way. Chris Rigg has done it, so there’s prime examples of young players barging players out the way.”

Irrespective of what transpires at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this afternoon, Taylor will leave with plenty of experience and, more than likely, plenty of suitors based on his excellent form in leading Murty’s team down the stretch of this academy season. Victory over Tottenham would be the icing on the cake.