Sunderland boss hands Ji fresh chance

SUNDERLAND HIGH: Ji Dong-won celebrates after his winner against Man City two years ago
SUNDERLAND HIGH: Ji Dong-won celebrates after his winner against Man City two years ago
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SUNDERLAND are set to bring Ji Dong-won back into the fold for today’s game against Aston Villa.

And that will give the South Korean the chance to reprise by far his best moment in a Sunderland shirt – when he scored the winner against Manchester City on New Year’s Day, 2012.

Gus Poyet confirmed to the Echo: “I plan to include Ji in the squad for the game against Aston Villa.

“He’s an interesting character because he is different from the other strikers we have and the bottom line is that we do not have many selection choices when it comes to attack.

“We have Steven Fletcher and we have Jozy Altidore – we don’t know yet about Fabio Borini – but Ji gives us another option.

“And even before Fabio was taken ill, I still had it in my mind to include Ji in my squad against Villa anyway.”

Ji, who is out of contract this summer, is a player Sunderland are ready to offload in the transfer window if an acceptable offer comes in.

Bought by Steve Bruce for £2m from Chunnam Dragons in the summer of 2011 the young striker has been a flop on Wearside – making just three league starts and 20 substitute appearances in two-and-a-half years at the club. He has yet to appear in any of Poyet’s matchday squads.

His personal low point came this season when he ducked out of a header in the 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace in August when he only needed to stretch to score.

Paolo Di Canio, who had incredibly turned down a £5m bid for the player in the summer, was stunned.

“When you play with kids without fire, without desire, when you have the ball three yards from the opponents’ goal-line and my player, rather than push his neck out to score a goal, retreats his neck because he is worried, what can you do?

“I can’t change the heart of my players.”

Ji never played under Di Canio again but the South Korean’s stock remains high in Germany where he impressed on a loan spell for Augsburg from January to May, 2013.

And while the striker can leave for free in the summer, there are rumours in Germany that Dortmund may make a fresh bid this month to secure their former target.

For the moment, Ji could be given the chance to revive memories of the highlight of his Sunderland career when he gave fans one of their best memories in recent times – scoring a last-gasp winner against Manchester City on January 1, 2012.

Stephane Sessegnon produced the magic to get the ball into the danger zone but it was Ji, with virtually the last kick of the game, who was there to stab the ball past Joe Hart for a famous 1-0 which sparked wild scenes in the stands and had then City boss Roberto Mancini storming down the tunnel.

Poyet would love it if Ji could recreate that magic today.

The Sunderland head coach pointed out: “I said when I first arrived at the club that we would have so many games that everyone in the squad would have a chance at some stage, and I meant that.

“I also said that when players get their chance they have to be ready and they have to look to take it.”