OF ALL Sunderland’s glut of summer signings, one was liberated from the shackles of expectation.
The capture of Ji Dong-won may have produced unrivalled attention on Sunderland in South Korea, but on Wearside, few eyebrows were raised at another promising rookie from far-off shores arriving in the Premier League.
Any modest enthusiasm towards Ji wasn’t helped by the five proven Premier League operators, the international goalkeeper, England U21 striker and former loan player who constituted his fellow new boys.
A £2m outlay on a 6ft 2in striker who was already his country’s first-choice hitman seemed a reasonable deal. And if Ji was destined for the reserves in the first six months of his Sunderland career, few would question Steve Bruce’s purchase.
Ji may still spend his early days at Sunderland gracing Eppleton Colliery Welfare on a Wednesday night.
But one of the few conclusions to be drawn from a tour of Germany which has been productive if not particularly newsworthy, is that Ji has the attributes and determination to make his mark in the top flight.
In an encounter which produced more talking points about the trigger-happy officials than the players on show, Ji was the one figure who stood out for Sunderland.
Deployed in a strike partnership for the first time during pre-season, Ji proved an effective foil for Connor Wickham, leaving his man for dead with a slick turn in front of the dug-outs, seeing a decent penalty appeal turned down and creating Sunderland’s best opportunity, which his fellow frontman narrowly failed to convert.
Ji may well turn out to be one of those deceptions which fool supporters in every pre-season campaign. But the 20-year-old’s movement, control and eagerness to chase a lost cause suggest he will make a competitive impact.
To read the rest of the match report, please see tonight’s Sunderland Echo.