Sunderland boss sends encouraging selection message to ex-West Ham United youngster after big step forward

Tony Mowbray says Pierre Ekwah can continue to expect more gametime between now and the end of the season as he impresses behind the scenes at the Academy of Light.
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Ekwah had endured a tough Good Friday as his late foul gave Hull City the chance to equalise with the last kick of the game at the Stadium of Light, but the former West Ham United midfielder returned to the starting XI against Cardiff City and impressed in the 1-0 win.

The signs of progress are clear for Mowbray, who had in the opening weeks of the 21-year-old's career on Wearside urged him to use his physicality and get up to the pace of the game in the second tier.

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Ekwah had never previously played senior football and his head coach says he is taking great encouragement from seeing those changes in his game on a daily basis.

Sunderland midfielder Pierre EkwahSunderland midfielder Pierre Ekwah
Sunderland midfielder Pierre Ekwah

"We've seen good growth from him, taking on board the messages we've had for him," Mowbray said.

"We had to calm him down in training today because he was catching a few with tackles. A month ago you wouldn't have seen him tackling anybody - I think the penny has dropped with him. It's great that he got that start against Burnley, very much a part of us being the first team in a year to stop them scoring at home.

"He started away in the win at Cardiff, so I think it's really positive and we can see him taking on board our messages. He'll have a big future if keeps taking on board the messages and keeps working on his game."

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Mowbray said his decision to bring Ekwah back into the side after that error against Hull City was in part designed to let him put it quickly behind him, but added that it was mostly because of the work the youngster is putting in at the Academy of Light.

Ekwah could well be replaced in the starting XI by Edouard Michut as Sunderland look to continue their promising form on home turf over the next week, but Mowbray is clear that the youngster is now very firmly in contention for starts.

"A little bit of that, you've got to support your young players," Mowbray said of the decision.

"I'm trying to give him game time because he's taking on board the messages we've been giving him constantly in training for the last eight weeks or so. The penny seems to have dropped and so you then have to allow him to take it out onto the pitch.

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"But of course, we've also got Edouard who is a very talented boy and so we're looking at each particular game and what the team needs in that. If we need to be solid and disciplined and have a little bit of physicality then it might be a day for Pierre, and if we think we're going to have loads and loads of the ball and we need to play through the lines, it might be a day for Michut.

"At this moment in time, Dan is then balancing one of those lads off."