The January signing quietly making an impact despite limited game time at Sunderland

From the outside, it might look a little curious.
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A player making his international debut and earning a rave review despite game time at club level being limited. Even more so, when the player keeping him on the sidelines is the same nationality.

With Trai Hume and Carl Winchester, however, it speaks to the differing situations in which the two managers find themselves.

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When Ian Baraclough named his Northern Ireland squad earlier this month there was some surprise that Hume was included, not least for the player himself.

Sunderland youngster Trai HumeSunderland youngster Trai Hume
Sunderland youngster Trai Hume

For Baraclough, two friendly matches offered the perfect chance to integrate a player with long-term potential, particularly given that he had been suspended for one of the U21 games in which he would otherwise have featured.

The initial stakes were low, and the long-term upside considerable.

The contrast with the situation on Wearside is obvious and vast. Hume did start Alex Neil's first game in charge after impressing on debut at Cheltenham Town days earlier, but the new head coach quickly decided that he needed more experience in his starting XI.

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To his credit, Winchester recovered the form that had made him one of the first names on the team sheet through the first half of the campaign.

He has continued in that vein ever since, and with Sunderland's defensive record improving considerably Neil has opted to try and maintain continuity wherever possible.

Though at times he has played with a back five, it has been in an aggressive system where the wing backs often take up positions in the opposition half, leaving

Winchester to cover on the right of defence.

It has left Hume with few opportunities, at least on a match day.

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The 20-year-old can nevertheless take significant encouragement from the fact that he is making a strong impression behind the scenes on Wearside.

Discussing that first call-up to the senior international group, Neil was upbeat about the progress he felt the youngster was making as he adjusts to what is a significant step up.

From a head coach who does hand out compliments for the sake of it, it was an encouraging verdict.

"Trai obviously started some of the games when I came in and has been on the bench of late, but he’s been training well," Neil said ahead of the 0-0 draw with Lincoln City.

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"I’ve been really pleased with him, I just think that we’ve kept three clean sheets out of four and that side of things that we needed to improve on, we have done.

"Trai just needs to keep doing what he’s doing because he’s progressing well, just now."

Though it was a brief cameo against Hungary, Hume's positivity going forward drew praise from Baraclough.

It may not be enough to immediately push him back into the Sunderland XI, but the hierarchy on Wearside clearly believe it is a matter of if, not when.

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Hume can take encouragement from Ross Stewart, too. Signed last January with a view to making a long-term impact, it took the Scot time to settle before he went on to become a key player for the club.

Hume, and Sunderland, will hope he is on a similar trajectory. A solid international debut is a mark of his progress, and hopefully another confidence boost.

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