Assessing a key transfer decision Sunderland made this summer and why Denver Hume can bounce back from his poor form
The time of the Carabao Cup’s first round fixtures is an apt time to reflect on Denver Hume’s progression.
It was this time last year, after all, that he produced a performance that made everyone sit up and take notice.
Sunderland had a problem at right-back.
Jack Ross was eager to protect and manage Adam Matthews, but this was pre-enlightenment, the time before Luke O’Nien emerged as a tenacious alternative.
Ross threw in Hume in what looked like a daunting task against imposing Championship opposition.
A very similar Sheffield Wednesday side had comfortably overpowered Sunderland months previous and though on this night the Black Cats lost 2-0, much of what they did impressed and no one more so than Hume.
Despite being a very obviously one-footed player, he contributed to his side’s attacks, was tenacious in defence and competed ferociously.
When he did it again on his wrong side in the Checkatrade Trophy a few weeks later, it was confirmation for Ross about something he had long suspected.
The state of the squad Ross inherited when he arrived on Wearside meant that a number of players from the academy setup were given a big chance to impress.
Many did, some were unlucky with injuries, some impressed but went on loan to boost their suitability for senior football in League One.
Hume was one Ross took to straight away, impressing the manager with the way he trained and the way he understood the role he was being asked to execute.
His arrival at League One was only a matter of time and it was no surprise that he took to it with few teething problems.
There was a frustrating knee injury at Coventry City, but when he returned again in March his form was even more impressive.
Ross had been very close to starting him in the Checkatrade Trophy final and his performance from the bench was such that he was handed the chance days later as a much-changed team travelled to Accrington Stanley.
There were plenty of standout performers that night. Dylan McGeouch dominated midfield and Charlie Wyke led the line with heartening tenacity.
It was notable, then, that it was Hume who caught the eye of Neil Redfearn, summarising for talkSPORT radio.
Redfearn would arrive at Newcastle United not long after to work with the U23s, and throughout the game he made reference to Hume’s athleticism and quality. He eventually named him man of the match.
He dipped in and out of the side after that but this background is relevant for two reasons.
One, it warns against writing Hume off after what has been a troubled start to the season.
Two, it serves as context for judging a key transfer decision that at the moment looks like an error.
Unquestionably, Saturday’s draw with Ipswich was a tough afternoon for Hume.
Ross took him off at half-time and had a clear message. Hume would be better for it, and he would have to be.
He struggled in 50-50 challenges and his defensive positioning was off. The mitigation, it has to be said, is that the quality of passing out to his flank was woeful.
The previous week, he had been uncertain defensively and poor in the final third, though the way he attacked space high up the pitch showed why Ross felt he could play that wing-back role.
Any judgement of the last two games but be balanced against the 11 before it and all the positive signs from that.
Grant Leadbitter was asked on Monday about his role in mentoring young players as club captain.
Given Hume’s tough afternoon, he was an obvious example to raise.
Leadbitter did not even let the question finish before he spoke about Hume as a prospect and his belief that providing he did everything right in training and off the pitch, he would have a good career.
Crucially, he made a pointed reference to Hume as a ‘modern full-back’.
Those qualities, his pace, athleticism and quality of delivery, have not disappeared overnight.
This is the biggest test of his career to date and it will take hard work and a bit of soul searching to come through it.
From what we saw last season, he has the ability to do exactly that.
Undoubtedtly it leaves Sunderland in a bit of a bind in the meantime.
Ross is eager to bring in a new left-back but his options in the interim are limited.
There’s an irony to the fact that having spent last season with three very capable options, he now has a major problem.
Most would be reassured if he had the option of calling upon Reece James, who was underrated last year.
He did not have Hume’s ceiling or Bryan Oviedo’s quality around the box, but of the three, he was arguably the most consistent in terms of all-round performances.
It is little coincidence that during Sunderland’s best winning run of the season, James was a regular.
Yes, he had injury problems, but nothing like that he had experienced earlier in his career and he was still fit for a large amount of games.
In one of those clashes, James was making one of his first appearances away at Doncaster Rovers.
In the first half, the home side relentlessly targeted him with crossfield balls. In the second half, they didn’t bother.
James was impressive and perhaps, then, it was no surprise that Grant McCann and Cliff Bryne moved to sign him at the start of the summer.
There was a logic to the sale, for both player and club.
Bryan Oviedo’s future was still unresolved and having three left-backs again was unsustainable.
For James, Doncaster were offering the security of a two-year deal and after losing the impressive Danny Andrew to Fleetwood Town, regular football at the Keepmoat was a certainty.
Hume’s progress on Wearside meant that could not be guaranteed should he stay.
Judging decisions in hindsight is easy and every time, you would want Sunderland to invest and back their academy talent.
In Hume’s case, there is every reason to believe he will deliver.
Competition and cover is an absolute must, but given that Ross says he does not expect to spend big fees or wages, you wonder whether they will find a player particularly superior to James.
It’s down to Hume now to bounce back and make the point moot.