How Sunderland youngster is making a strong start to a defining few months in his career
A moment of quality worthy of winning any game.
First, the desire.
A strong forward run into the channel, stretching the game from midfield.
Then, the composure to look up and see that the early cross from the byline isn’t on. A touch back inside, taking the covering defender out of the game as he slides to try and anticipate that low ball into the six-yard box.
After that, the most eye-catching bit of all. A thumping finish on the weaker right foot, firing the ball into the roof of the net and leaving the goalkeeper with no chance.
A big moment for Ethan Robson.
He has had plenty of appearances since moving on loan to Grimsby Town on deadline day, but after a frustrating thigh problem towards the end of pre-season, he has had to build match fitness up again.
This was what he has been waiting for.
A crucial moment of quality to settle a tight game, landing three points for his team.
Manager Michael Jolley was suitably impressed.
“It was an excellent goal,” he said.
“I think it was probably his strongest performance. I really like the way he plays and he’s got a super left-foot.
“It was a terrific goal. It was a good forward run, he showed good composure to come back inside and it was a great finish with his right foot.”
This is, without doubt, a crucial few months for Robson.
On the one hand, he as a player who unquestionably has the attributes and attitude to have a long and successful career.
Dedicated, conscientious, with a great left foot, height and the ability to cover long distances in a game.
The issue, through no real fault of his own, was that on the brink of 23 he found himself with just over 20 senior appearances.
He’d reached a crossroads.
Robson should have been loaned out long ago but the opportunity was never given.
A run of injuries prevented him from getting a chance last season and so sensibly, Jack Ross took the decision to send him north of the border for minutes at Dundee.
They were relegated, but Robson played regularly and stood tall.
He returned for pre-season desperate to break through and having learned much about his game.
“I’ve definitely tried to have that bit more snap about me, try to become a bit more of a physical player,” he told the Echo.
When you come through the academy it’s all nice football, but what I learned in Scotland was that you’ve got to have that snap.
“You can’t just always think, let him have the ball, you’ve got to make tackles in midfield, you’ve got to get up and down.
“That’s something I’ve spoken about with the manager, we’ve watched loads of little clips and that’s definitely helped,” he adds.
“Off the ball, I think I’ve come back to prove that, I can make those tackles in midfield, I can get up and down, all that kind of thing.”
His performances in pre-season were solid enough, not spectacular and perhaps not enough to catapult him ahead of the likes of Max Power in the reckoning of the manager.
Then came the thigh problem, curtailing his progress even further.
Ross rates the youngster hightly but was firm in his message after sanctioning and indeed encouraging the Grimsby loan.
“He needs to prove he can be strong enough physically to put that run of games together,” he said.
“He’s got good attributes, I think he could be a successful player here, but at nearly 23 he needs to play.
“He probably should have played more games earlier in his career, if you compare him to George Dobson with over 100 games at 21, Luke O’Nien was similar when he signed.
“That’s gone now and we can’t do anything about it, so it’s about how we make sure he’s playing games.”
Robson is in the last year of his Sunderland contract, and so time to break through is running out.
Is he capable? Absolutely.
Ross says he will reassess the situation at the end of the year and the success of George Dobson so far this season shows there is a path back into the side for a midfielder with tenacity, enthusiasm and drive.
He has now a long run of regular football league matches to prove he can blend that talent with athleticism and consistency.
Those attributes he spoke of in pre-season were all on show for that superb goal.
The penny has long dropped with Robson, a bright and dedicated youngster. He knows that being right at it off the ball is as important as what he produces on it, and he knows the importance of proving he can cope with the rigours of a long football league campaign.
That he has not the chance to do so thus far is a combination of bad luck with injuries and bad decisions from those above him.
It’s here that Ross deserves much credit.
It would have been easy, amidst the pressure of a promotion campaign, to hoard players in case of emergency.
Ross, though, has a duty of care to Robson and loaning him out not only gives him the best possible chance of reviving his Sunderland career, but of thriving away from Wearside if it comes to that.
It is encouraging to see that lessons have been learned and that the current hierarchy are pushing to get academy talents out on loan early.
Jordan Hunter and Jack Diamond are getting vital experience in challenging leagues that will set them up well for their future careers.
This is Robson’s opportunity to do the same.
There is no doubt that he can return to offer something different for Sunderland, and this was a fine way to start.