How Dennis Cirkin's arrival from Tottenham has given Sunderland and Lee Johnson a reliable left-back option
While the Wearsiders now have competition for places in almost every position, Johnson appears to have formed a relatively settled first-choice starting XI in recent weeks.
The only change to Sunderland’s team in Lancashire was enforced, as Bailey Wright replaced the suspended Tom Flanagan in defence, with the rest of the side mostly picking itself following three consecutive league wins.
One of the players who has become a regular starter is left-back Dennis Cirkin, a summer signing from Tottenham whose performances have improved week after week.
The 19-year-old has now started five out of six league games since his arrival and, after some initial concerns about his fitness which led to some early substitutions, the defender is now clocking up 90-minute appearances.
Defensively, Cirkin has been steady and reliable on the left side of Sunderland’s back four, making intelligent decisions to position himself in the right areas and thwart the opposition’s threat.
Last week against Accrington Stanley, the left-back demonstrated great awareness to drop back onto his goal line and make a headed clearance when his side were defending a 2-1 lead.
Against Fleetwood, Sunderland came up against a side who started the match in a 3-5-2 formation, yet Cirkin coped well with the hosts’ right wing-back Callum Johnson.
When Fleetwood switched to a 4-3-3 system in the second half, most of their attacks were directed down the hosts’ left, where Callum Morton caused problems for Wright and Carl Winchester with his probing runs infield.
On the opposite flank, Cirkin also showed his qualities in possession and played a couple of fine passes down the left channel.
Midway through the first half, the defender showed great vision to thread the ball down the wing and open up Fleetwood’s defence with a pass to Elliot Embleton.
The midfielder may have sent his effort just wide but it was a move which almost paid off.
While Cirkin may not be the marauding, overlapping full-back people thought he would be, he has certainly provided a reliable option so far.