Reece James on launching his Sunderland career and the key area of his game he can improve
In his pre-match programme notes, Reece James noted that both he and Max Power saw similarities between this Sunderland squad and the Wigan side that won League One under Gary Caldwell in 2015/16.
That looked to be the defining season of his career so far, the full back a regular after making the decision to leave Manchester United.
A horror injury curtailed his progress and it was only last season that he was able to get back on the pitch.
By his own admission, he is still on the comeback trail but for Sunderland that is a positive.
Since getting in the side after Bryan Oviedo’s suspension last month, James has established himself as a consistent, dependable performer and a key factor in the surge of clean sheets that the Black Cats have enjoyed.
The 25-year-old believes he can now start to offer a lot more going in the other direction.
“I am an attacking player, that’s my game,” he said.
“I had a long injury period at Wigan where I was out for almost two years, so found it hard to get back into the stride but I can do that now.
“The more games I play the more that side of my game comes back. I’m getting enough games now and I am pushing myself more to get forward and the gaffer wants that too, especially at home.
“The thing I have found tough is that I have had a lot of away games during my run, which obviously affects the attacking side of things,” he added.
“It’s a team game, we have done it well as a back four, the midfield and attackers have helped us to string clean sheets together. We have done well and Jon has done unbelievable this season to get those.”
Those words bode well for Sunderland.
Bryan Oviedo’s attacking quality has never been in question and he drew praise from Jack Ross on Saturday after replacing James for the closing stages of the Wycombe Wanderers draw.
With Denver Hume soon to return from injury, competition is fierce.
James, however, has taken his chance and despite Oviedo’s cameo, he will take some shifting.
“It’s been brilliant [to get in the team]. All I wanted to do when I came here was to play week in and week out,” James said.
“It was unfortunate that on the second day of pre-season I tore my groin, I tried playing with it in pre-season but it just wasn’t right.
“I found it tough when the season got going. I am obviously up against tough opponents for my position, we have quality in every position and if you want to be a winning team you need that because it pushes everyone. That’s the way it is.
“Bryan is pushing us to be better every day in training, games, he is someone me and Denver can both learn from.
“He has such ability, experience of World Cups and the top level. That’s the kind of character he is that he is helping us.
“Denver is being pushed too and that helps us to get the best out of each other.
“You are always worried as a footballer when you’re not playing because you always work week in and week out to play.
“It’s hard not to play but you know your chance will come if you keep working hard. It was up to me when I got it. I staked my claim and I feel like I have done that. I feel like there is more to come from me too.”