The stats behind Trai Hume's time at Linfield, his strengths and areas for improvement plus how he can fit in at Sunderland
When new Sunderland signing Trai Hume watched the Black Cats’ 5-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday at the Stadium of Light – he was already thinking about how he could fit in.
The 19-year-old liked what he saw as Lee Johnson’s side regularly cut their opponents open while demonstrating their attacking prowess to go - briefly - top of League One.
"It's a very attacking team and they like to play," Hume told Sunderland’s website a few days later, after signing from Northern Irish Premiership side Linfield on a four-and-a-half-year deal.
"Whenever they get the ball the first thought is a forward pass, breaking and looking to get goals. I like the way they play.
"I like going forward, I'm a right-back so I have to defend but I like to get forward and to create things so the way this team plays is good [for me].
"I'm Northern Irish so I like a tackle, we all do, but I do like getting on the ball and getting forward. But I'm happy to do the dirty work as well.”
That all sounds extremely promising, while it’s also been said that Hume has a ‘great mentality’ and has flourished in big matches during his fledgling career.
Obviously moving from Northern Ireland, playing in front of average crowds of 2,500, to a club the size of Sunderland will be a significant step up, yet people on Wearside (other established clubs were also tracking the player) clearly feel Hume has the attributes and mindset to succeed in England.
Assessing Hume’s time at Linfield
Following a loan spell at Ballymena United last season, Hume became a regular at Northern Irish champions Linfield this campaign.
In 17 league appearances the teenager has netted three goals, scoring twice from headers directly from corners.
While he won’t be the tallest player in Sunderland’s squad, clearly Hume is a threat in the air and was regularly told to go forward for set-pieces at Linfield.
The stats back up the defender’s aerial ability, with Hume winning 56.9 per cent of his aerial duels this season, with several occurring in the opposition's penalty area.
Hume’s other goal this term came from open play in last month’s 1-1 draw with Linfield’s big rivals Glentoran.
The right-back sensed an opportunity to break forward (Figure one) and arrived late at the back post to convert Matthew Clarke’s cross.
An attacking instinct
As shown by Hume’s heatmap (Figure two) during that game against Glentoran, the full-back likes to venture into the opposition’s territory where he can pose an attacking threat.
This season Hume has averaged 1.17 shots per game for Linfield, while he is also capable of cutting inside when he receives the ball on the right.
Figure three is a screenshot from Linfield’s 1-1 draw against Cliftonville in October.
After just five minutes Hume was picked out on the flank before cutting inside of his full-back and registering an early shot at goal. While the effort was comfortably saved, it showed the teenager is comfortable going both ways.
An area that Hume will have to improve is his crossing accuracy, especially when he’ll be required to help supply Sunderland’s top scorer Ross Stewart.
This season the teenager has averaged 2.67 crosses per match but has recorded just a 25 per cent accuracy figure.
Still, that desire to drive his team forward and advance up the pitch is something Sunderland boss Lee Johnson will value.
At just 19, the full-back’s energy and athleticism is clear to see.
Defensively, Hume will be tested far more against League One opponents, yet - as he said in his interview - he ‘likes a tackle.’
The player’s defensive stats at Linfield show he’s not just a gung-ho full-back, with Hume winning 69.1 per cent of his defensive duels in the league this season and averaging 4.68 interceptions per match.
Where will Hume fit in at Sunderland?
Right-back is an area where Sunderland needed to strengthen this month.
Carl Winchester occupied the role at the start of the campaign but has been moved into the centre of midfield in recent weeks, while he has also missed the side’s last two games with a knock.
Summer signing Niall Huggins remains sidelined, meaning Bailey Wright has admirably filled in on the right side of defence against Doncaster and Sheffield Wednesday.
Wright’s experience and versatility means Sunderland have been able to switch from a back four to a back three with relative ease, while the Australian international has provided sufficient defensive cover for Leon Dajaku on the right.
Clearly, though, Johnson would prefer to have more offensive outlets in wide positions - his side were successful when Winchester and Dennis Cirkin provided bags of energy from full-back earlier in the campaign.
Due to injuries setbacks, whether Sunderland play with a back three or back four, there appears to be a void which Hume could fill.
That’s not to say the Northern Irishman will be the team’s regular right-back for the rest of the season, yet you can expect him to at least play a part given that Johnson likes to work with a smaller, close-knit squad.
Winchester’s role is likely to be a big factor in the game time Hume receives between now and the end of the season, and that may depend on whether Sunderland move to sign another central midfielder this month.
Regarding Hume, the early reports and soundbites appear encouraging. After signing a four-and-a-half-year deal, he looks set to be a long-term asset for the Black Cats.