The big names may be the ones that grab the headlines but at all of the North-East clubs there are diamonds waiting to shine. All they require is a little polish. Northern Echo Sport looks at five young players who will be looking to leave their mark on the forthcoming season.

Steven Taylor (Newcastle): Newcastle's 3-0 win at Real Mallorca was one of their most impressive displays of last season but, for teenager Steven Taylor, the game meant more than simply making the fifth round of the UEFA Cup.

When the 18-year-old centre-half replaced Andy O'Brien to make his senior debut in the second half of the game, he took another step on a path that most pundits predict will lead to the very top.

The London-born youngster first sprang to prominence when he was voted Player of the Tournament after captaining England's under-16 side in 2001's Walkers Tournament.

He joined Newcastle on a full-time basis the following July and, last year, played in all three of England's games in the World Under-20 Championship in Dubai.

More international honours came last season as he was fast-tracked into the England Under-21 side but, after following up his senior Newcastle debut with a second appearance in the 1-0 defeat at Bolton, the elegant defender is determined to make his make for the Magpies over the next nine months.

"This season I want to get as many reserve games under my belt as I can," said Taylor, who played out of position at right back at the Reebok Stadium. "Hopefully some chances in the first team will come my way as well.

"It was great to make my debut last season and I just want to build on that. I'm hungrier than ever."

Taylor spent a month on loan at Wycombe Wanderers last December, making six Football League appearances under the tutelage of former England international Tony Adams.

Sir Bobby Robson was pleased to see him gain first-team experience at The Causeway Stadium, but is unlikely to be so keen to see him leave Tyneside this season.

With Jonathan Woodgate looking as injury-prone as ever, and Robson struggling to sign a right-back to compete with Aaron Hughes, Taylor could be an important figure as Newcastle look to give their boss a golden send-off.

He played in both games of United's pre-season tour of the Far East and is already starting to see himself as a part of the first-team squad.

"I really enjoyed pre-season," said Taylor. "I got on for 20 minutes in each game, which was good for me, and I took a penalty against Kitchee.

"The trip gave me the experience I need. The players were always helping me and Shay Given was talking to me all the time. It boosted my confidence."

Brian Close (Darlington): The bottom division of the Football League doesn't always play host to the most attractive of football with adjectives 'class' and 'finesse' used only sparingly. This is where Brian Close comes into the equation.

Not every player in League Two is capable of pin-point accuracy but midfielder Close is a break from the norm with his through-the-eye-of-a-needle passes.

Granted, Close hardly looks the part, he'd admit he's hardly from the Patrick Viera mould of athletes but the barrel-chested Belfast man, who arrived from Middlesbrough midway though last season, could be key to Darlington's fortunes this season.

After signing in March, his strongest assets quickly became apparent: the vision to spot a pass and the ability to execute it.

Against Leeds United last week two through-balls in particular drew applause. From the centre circle he weighted balls to perfection enabling a teammate to cross from the right-wing and, like a pro golfer, Close's short game is accurate too.

But aside from his passing the former Boro man is strong in the tackle, providing a formidable opponent and this formula of attributes means Close has all the ingredients to be an effective midfielder.

However, if he's going to stay in the team, he must stick to the fitness plan he's been given because his stamina is not what it could be.

Manager David Hodgson reports that Close has "worked his socks off" this summer and fans will be hoping that determination will become evident over the next nine months.

Mark Lynch (Sunderland): THE prospect of being seventh choice Manchester United right-back was enough to persuade Mark Lynch the time was right to swap Old Trafford for the Stadium Of Light.

The 22-year-old had seen his first-team chances limited by the presence of six full internationals who could all play on the right side of defence, and when Sunderland came in there was no hesitation.

Lynch said: "It's not just the Neville brothers. You've obviously got Gary (Neville) as first choice.

"Phil (Neville) can play there, Wes (Brown) can play there, John O'Shea can play there and Eric Djemba-Djemba can play there.

"I just felt there was going to be five or six players ahead of me before I'd be figuring in the team so the time was right to leave."

There was plenty of interest in the Manchester-born defender but only one choice of destination.

"There were other clubs interested in signing me but Sunderland offered me a contract and I wanted to sign," said Lynch, who joined on a free last month.

"As soon as Sunderland came in they were the club I wanted to sign for.

"The club's geared for Premiership football and I hope to be playing for Sunderland in the Premiership after next season.

"The whole place is first class. I've played at the stadium a few times and I know what it's like - it's a great stadium.

"It's very impressive and it's up there with the best in the country without a doubt."

But, despite the glowing report on the Stadium Of Light, there must be some disappointment at leaving the Theatre of Dreams, even for a player who only started once against Deportivo la Coruna in the Champions League?

Not so according to the talented defender who found his chances limited under Sir Alex Ferguson.

"I've no real regrets about leaving Man. United," he said. "It's not a wrench when you get into my situation.

"I've been there 11 years and it's hard leaving home, but I'm ready for the challenge at Sunderland and hopefully playing regular first-team football every week.

"It was a footballing decision first and foremost to come here. I've had no guarantees.

"Mick McCarthy's not said 'you'll be starting first game of the season' because as a manager that's something that would be daft to say.

"I've got to prove to Mick and to the other players that I'm good enough to play."

Antony Sweeney (Hartlepool): A surprise choice in central midfield late last season, but flourished as Pool's already memorable season hit new heights. Has been at Victoria Park for four years, but it's only in the last six months where he has come to the fore.

After making his debut at Carlisle on the opening day of the 2002 season, he made only one more start in 18 months before playing at Brighton in April when Mark Tinkler moved to the back line.

But carrying the confidence of Neale Cooper and Martin Scott, the strong-running midfielder kept his place and played a leading role as Pool made the play-offs.

Growing in stature as the season drew to a close, impressing and memorably scoring in the second-leg of the play-offs at Bristol City, he has the strength and ability to become a long-lasting figure in the Pool midfield.

"I played the last ten games and before that if someone said that I would be playing in such big games on Sky with so much at stake, I would have laughed,'' he admitted.

Stockton-born Sweeney signed a new deal this summer, after admitting to some nervy thoughts in the opening six months of the year, when a first-team place looked a million miles away.

Stewart Downing (Boro): BORO may have drafted in the big guns as they seek to build on last year's Carling Cup triumph but a local lad will be hoping to play a key role in the club's fortunes.

Sent out on loan to North-East neighbours Sunderland last season, Stewart Downing is back at the Riverside and could see increased playing time with Steve McClaren's men facing the rigours of both European and domestic campaign.

More of an old-style winger who likes to cut in now and then and go for goal, the 20-year-old has bags of pace allied to a sweet left foot. They are attributes that have been honed over the years and are now bringing him the success he craved from an early age.

"I always practise shooting and crossing. Even at Primary School, I would be out on the playground playing football before the first bell," he said last season. "When I came home, I would go straight out and play football until about 10 o'clock."

When negotiations with Bolo Zenden seemed to have hit an impasse, there were those who felt Boro should call it a day in the search for new additions and give Downing, an England Under-21 international, his head instead.

However, Boro perservered, bagging their man this week. Still, even at the press conference to unveil the Dutchman, Downing proved he wasn't far from the manager's thoughts.

"We've got a good young player coming through in Stewart Downing, but we wanted a bit of competition and we've certainly got that now," the boss said as if to illustrate that Zenden might not have it all his own way out wide this season.

Downing will certainly be hoping that's the case.