SUNDERLAND head to Portsmouth this afternoon with Bailey Wright admitting the club’s youngsters have performed ‘better than anyone could have imagined’ in the opening two months of the season.

The Black Cats will kick off at Fratton Park with a three-point advantage at the top of League One, having taken an impressive tally of 22 points from their opening nine league matches.

Lee Johnson presided over a radical overhaul of his squad this summer, replacing a raft of experienced figures with a number of untried youngsters.

Sterner tests lie in wait, but in the likes of Thorben Hoffman, Callum Doyle, Dennis Cirkin, Leon Dajaku and Nathan Broadhead, not to mention Elliot Embleton and Dan Neil who were already on the books, Sunderland appear to have unearthed a crop of young players who are destined for bigger and better things in the not-too-distant future.

“I hadn’t really seen them play that often, so you are kind of just trusting the people that are paid to do that job in recruitment,” said Wright. “Our job as a player is just to focus day-to-day on the football pitch, in the dressing room, and to allow them to be their best.

“I think they have probably been better than anyone expected. I think, expectations aside, they are just good lads who set high standards every day, so it’s enjoyable when you have lads like that to work next to. They ask questions, they want to learn and will give suggestions.

“They are only at the start of their careers, some of them, so you think, ‘I can’t wait until I’m retired on my sofa one day and Callum Doyle is captain of England’. You think of things like that. You can’t tell him that, actually you could. He is that humble of a lad.”

Wright, who will turn 30 next summer, is one of the more senior members of the dressing room, but even he admits his own performances have improved because of the presence of so many talented youngsters on the training ground every day.

“Credit to the boys that have come in,” said the Australian centre-half. “They have raised the standards and raised the culture in that regard, and all brought their own uniqueness to the group, which I think is a credit to them that they have settled in.

“It’s also a credit to the staff and players that they have created a culture that is enjoyable to come into, and it’s important we maintain that and that complacency doesn't creep in.”

Guarding against complacency will be one of Johnson’s key objectives if Sunderland remain at the top of the table, but the head coach is confident that will not be too much of a problem with the current squad. That said, however, he admits he had to clamp down on some sloppiness in the wake of Tuesday’s thrashing of Cheltenham.

“All we can control is improving performance, it’s as simple as that,” said Johnson. “I don’t think we’ve got a group that will get ahead of themselves. I honestly don’t.

"But I’ll be honest with you, I thought training (on Wednesday) was a bit sloppy. I thought the training session was a bit ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’.

“It was a technical session, and it was a little bit sloppy, and we were quite aggressive in demanding the standards.

"It was sloppy, and it could have been a day when we just let things slide, but we don’t want to do that. We want to stay on it and keep the hammer down.”

Sunderland’s youngsters are riding the crest of a wave at the moment, but Johnson accepts that things could get more difficult in the winter months, when the weather turns and the standard of the League One pitches become more of an issue.

“I think our biggest challenge will probably come in the winter,” he said. “My experience with young players is that in the summer, they’re very good.

"While the pitches are good and the sky is blue and the weather is warm, they’re fine.

“But they’re not necessarily hardened to that sleet and rain, and the battle of potentially a January or a February. That will be a test. We’re always getting tested, but for sure, that will be a big challenge.”

In terms of today’s challenge, Johnson will be hoping that Cirkin, Doyle and Lynden Gooch are all available after missing the midweek win over Cheltenham.

Sunderland (probable, 4-2-3-1): Hoffman; Winchester, Flanagan, Doyle, Cirkin; O’Nien, Neil; Gooch, Embleton, McGeady; Stewart.