Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Dean's Fears for Top-Flight Dream

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Dean's Fears for Top-Flight Dream

Article excerpt

Byline: By Simon Rushworth

Dean Whitehead, preparing for his first season in English football's top flight, last night admitted he feared the opportunity to tackle the Premiership elite had passed him by.

The former Oxford United midfielder is relishing a return to pre-season training and ensuring he matches up to the standards required to make Mick McCarthy's starting XI in August.

But Whitehead, plucked from lower league obscurity and transformed into a key player at the forefront of Sunderland's promotion campaign, has revealed how a lack of self-belief haunted him as a fledgling professional.

"You think about playing the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United and it's bound to excite you," he explained.

"I think every young lad dreams of coming up against teams like that. It was a dream for me and I was worried that's all it would ever be. I never really thought I would make it.

"It's about enjoying every minute of it, but it's also about achieving something when you're there. I won't be enjoying playing Premiership football if Sunderland are losing every week."

Whitehead's progress under McCarthy's expert guidance has been remarkable but a player unproven at the highest level must improve again if he is to maintain his place in a team set for significant strengthening this summer.

Those same critics who doubted the merits of last season's previously unheralded signings are sharpening their knives again ahead of the Black Cats latest tilt at Premiership success but McCarthy's young guns have become used to proving the doubters wrong.

"I didn't expect to be getting ready for the Premiership but I will be ready when it comes," added Whitehead. "I've had a decent season, but I've got a lot of good players around me who make my job a lot easier."

One of the club's most modest professionals, Whitehead accepts his career learning curve is about to become so much steeper with top-flight football looming.

And a player whose only ambition 12 months ago was to make an occasional mark in the Championship is braced for another battle to prove his first team worth. …

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