Sunderland boss sends message to ex-West Ham United defender after first-team breakthrough

Tony Mowbray hopes that two stellar performances will help Aji Alese build belief that he deserves to be in the Sunderland side on a regular basis.

Alese made his league debut at Reading after Dennis Cirkin, one of the most impressive performers in the early stages of the season, suffered a hamstring injury.

The left side of defence had looked an area of vulnerability for the Black Cats, with Cirkin currently the only natural left back in the senior squad (at least while Niall Huggins remains sidelined).Alese, though, took his opportunity.

Hide Ad

After impressing in the 3-0 win over Reading he scored his first league goal in the 2-2 draw with Watford, his performance particularly impressive as he had been moved out of central defence and into a full-back role.

Mowbray now has a very welcome selection dilemma as Championship football returns this weekend, with Cirkin returning to training on Monday and expected to be available for the visit of Preston North End.

The Sunderland head coach says there are a number of areas where the 21-year-old can still improve, but says he almost immediately recognised his potential importance to the side after arriving on Wearside.

Hide Ad

"Aji wasn't a player I knew well, someone who had been around the West Ham United U23 side and the first team a bit," Mowbray said.

"He's a big guy and around the training ground he's not one of the louder characters, he's a nice guy who likes to keep himself to himself really.

Hide Ad
Sunderland defender Aji Alese scores his first goal at Watford

"When I was watching the training the first week I was here [I saw] he's very mobile, balls over his head were never a problem for him to turn and recover - straight away I could see he was going to help us with that aspect of his game.

Hide Ad

"What he's also brought to us is composure on the ball, and you could see at Reading he helped take their strikers out the game really, with the way we were able to spread them with that quick passing across the back. He fitted into that perfectly.

Read More
The FIVE crucial Sunderland calls Tony Mowbray needs to make ahead of Championsh...
Hide Ad

"Out of possession he's strong and mobile and he has shown that.

"He still has to gain that confidence within himself, that he should be playing in the first team at Sunderland AFC. He isn't a gregarious lad, and I'll be pushing him to find that consistency and the belief that he should be in the team every single week.

Hide Ad

"Like all players there's areas where he needs to improve, as a tall centre-half we want to improve his heading for example, but he gives the team balance and he's done exceptionally well for us."

Alese signed a three-year deal after signing from West Ham United for an undisclosed fee in the summer, with the club holding the option for an additional year.

Hide Ad

Alese featured briefly for West Ham United in the Europa League last season but opted to leave in search of regular football.

"We felt it was right he wanted to go, it was a good move," West Ham boss David Moyes said.

Hide Ad

“He has worked well and we like him a lot.

"We thought to give him an opportunity was the best thing as we didn’t see a chance for him to heavily feature in the first team.”