Jack Ross remains hopeful that Denver Hume will commit his long-term future to Sunderland.
The youngster is closing in on a first team return after a long absence with a knee problem.
That injury has restricted the left back to just seven appearances in all competitions this season.
But he has made a big impression on Ross, who believes he has a significant future on Wearside.
Hume is out of contract in the summer and the Black Cats boss sees his him as a big part of his plans going forward.
“Denver, I think he’s really blossomed this season.
“Even just how he trains in the group every day, he’s good, he’s really come on this season.
“I’ve been really pleased with him.
“I keep reminding him of that, if he looks at where he was in the summer to where he is now, he’s had the frustration of the injury but he’s been really good for us and I’m really keen to keep him.”
After impressing against a Carlisle United XI at the Academy of Light earlier this week, Ross says Hume is pushing Reece James for his place.
“I think Reece’s performances, he’s deserved to play,” he said.
“He’s been consistent, steady. He very rarely goes too high or too low, and he has to be because he’s keeping good players out of the team.
“Denver is back fit, and I thought he was terrific earlier in the season.
“He’s trained really well, played in the bounce game [against Carlisle] the other day and was really good. He’s a player that I like a lot.
“He’s getting closer.”
Hume is one of a number of young players out of contract this summer in talks with the club.
Elliot Embleton, currently on loan at Grimsby Town, as well as goalkeeper Max Stryjek, are players that Ross wants to keep.
“Elliot I’ve been really pleased with, how he’s played in his loan spell,” Ross said.
“I think it’s been brilliant for him and I think he’ll come back a lot better for it.”
Talks are ongoing and while the Black Cats boss admits he will be pragmatic if no resolution is reached, there is no need for concern about the delay as of yet.
“From my point of view, I want to keep them here,” Ross said.
That’s the first part of the process, if you like.
I think that they want to stay here.
“I hope there’ll be a resolution.
“It’s like everything, it gets taken out of my hands to a degree.
“Ultimately I’m quite pragmatic and if an agreement can’t be reached, that’s life.
“As a club you’ve got to have parameters you work with, if anything doesn’t fit within that then you have to move on and find another solution.
“But I don’t think there’s anything sinister [in the delay].”