Sunderland keen to avoid repeat of Gibbons ban

SAFE PROCESS: Javier Hernandez dives to head home Manchester United's second goal at Old Trafford last night - and set up a quarter final tie with either Middlesbrough or Chelsea

SAFE PROCESS: Javier Hernandez dives to head home Manchester United's second goal at Old Trafford last night - and set up a quarter final tie with either Middlesbrough or Chelsea

First published in Sport
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The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

SUNDERLAND want young footballers to learn lessons from a former scholar who was yesterday given a two-year ban from football for failing a drugs test.

Promising teenager Lewis Gibbons tested positive for two prohibited substances - commonly known as cocaine and cannabis - after he had appeared for Sunderland's Under-18s against Aston Villa on September 22 last year.

After admitting two breaches of the Football Association's anti-doping regulations his case was heard by an independent regulatory commission on December 18. When the case was closed, he lodged an appeal but this was recently withdrawn and confirmation that the suspension had been upheld arrived yesterday.

And Sunderland, who cancelled his scholarship with immediate effect after a club investigation at the time, have been quick to condemn the actions of a player who was just 17 when the test was carried out.

The Premier League club's chief executive, Margaret Byrne, said: "Empowering and educating our young people to make the right choices and decisions both on and off the field is fundamental to our academy philosophy and ethos.

"We expect the highest standards of all players who have the honour of being part of Sunderland AFC, which is why this came as such as shock to us.

"It was enormously disappointing for everyone at the club who works so hard to support our young players and give them every opportunity to make it as professional footballers.

"We are strong advocates of the rigorous testing programme that our sport adheres to and we will continue to educate and advise all of our young players as to the enormous dangers of drug use."

Gibbons' ban has been back-dated to October 18, 2012, which was the date when he was provisionally suspended from. The 18-year-old then faces being target tested for two further years from October 18, 2014.

It is a situation which disappoints Sunderland, whose academy manager Ged McNamee had watched the talented centre-back come through the ranks.

McNamee said: "Lewis not only let our club down, he let himself down and his team-mates down massively. We took the strongest possible action in terminating his contract as every footballer knows the severe consequences of this type of offence.

"We have, however, worked to ensure that support and assistance was available to the player and his family through what has undoubtedly been a difficult and challenging time for them."

While McNamee and his coaching team have been drumming the club's ethos in to its young players, first team boss Martin O'Neill has been working on refocusing his players on a return to Premier League action this weekend.

The Northern Echo: SUPPORT TEAM: Ged McName

O'Neill's squad have recently returned from a mini-break to Dubai ahead of Saturday's trip to West Brom, although he has also been keeping an eye on potential summer buys.

Celtic's Nigerian defender Efe Ambrose has emerged as one. Swansea City and Liverpool have also been credited with an interest in a player only signed from Israeli club Ashdod for £1.5m six months ago.

Ambrose was also part of the Nigeria squad which won the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this month and his versatility - he can play in midfield, centre-back or as a full-back - has led to many clubs scouting him at Parkhead.

And Celtic boss Neil Lennon said: "Overall he's been brilliant for us and there's been a lot of interest in him. Not just in England, but interest on the continent as well.

"I don't think we'll lose him in the summer as he's just in the door

and there's more he can add to his game. But he has got a few admirers out there with his performances this season.

"There's been nothing concrete but I've been made aware of it, put it that way. There is definite interest from top teams in different countries. He's been a great signing for us."

James McFadden, meanwhile, is on the verge of a move back to Motherwell. The 29-year-old did not have his short-term contract at the Stadium of Light renewed last month and has been looking for a new club.

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