The three talented youngsters handing Sunderland and Phil Parkinson a January dilemma
Having made Bailey Wright his second January signing, Phil Parkinson’s attentions now turn to other areas of the pitch.
Key to any decision he makes, however, will be three young academy graduates, all at different stages of their development but all with plenty of talent….
The left-back has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence in recent months, establishing himself firmly as the club’s number one option in the wing-back role.
It’s a system that is drawing on the best of his skillset, offering him plenty of defensive cover and allowing him to play most of his game in the opposition half.
In particular, his excellent ability to drive at the opposition defence with the ball is proving an effective weapon, and will be key against deep-lying defences at the Stadium of Light.
Ironically, it’s the role that Ross had identified for him during the pre-season campaign, and the Black Cats boss felt criticism of his opening-day performance against Oxford United in that position had been harsh.
Sunderland fired in 35 crosses that day, still the highest total of their season so far.
Hume was responsible for many of them and his delivery came under scrutiny but equally to blame, staff thought, was a lack of movement in the box.
Ross had identified Hume early on in his first pre-season as a player could potentially operate at a higher level, either with Sunderland or by earning his club a significant profit.
Injuries had curtailed his progress but that faith was one of the reasons why Reece James was allowed to leave in the summer.
That has looked like a mistake for much of the campaign, particularly in the early stages where Hume’s lack of senior football looked exposed.
He had struggled badly against a direct Ipswich Town outfit, withdrawn at the break. It happened again against Bolton Wanderers, Hume this time taken off after struggling up against the excellent Thibaud Verlinden.
In fairness, Hume had been far from the only poor performer on both of those occasions and Ross stuck with him.
Under Parkinson, he has gone from strength to strength, highlighted by his superb finish against Lincoln City, arriving onto a cross from Jordan Willis and firing a first-time effort confidently and emphatically into the bottom corner.
His output in the final third has improved significantly, dovetailing excellently with Lynden Gooch in a partnership that is causing opposition managers a major problem to solve.
He is very much first choice, and the Black Cats are eager to ensure that remains the case, all of which leaves them with something of a dilemma in the closing stages of the transfer window.
They will be concerned at a lack of cover, with Laurens De Bock returning to Leeds ahead of a move to Alan Pardew’s Ado Den Haag.
An injury would leave Parkinson light in a position that has proven to be absolutely key to their recent revival.
Luke O’Nien could play on the left, with Gooch or Conor McLaughlin filling in on the right, but that would be disrupting the settled shape of the side and so the preference would be for an orthdodox left-sided player.
The issue, of course, is that any arrival would know that their chances of first-team action, at least in the immediate future, are limited.
Whether the move then appeals, to either the parent club or the player, is a big question, as is therefore the quality of player the Black Cats could attract.
The alternative, then, could perhaps be to try and find a player of a similar ilk, perhaps one capable of operating on either flank, who could push Hume and develop alongside him.
Harry Brockbank has been linked, and regardless of the truth or otherwise in that, it’s the kind of deal that might make sense.
A youngster capable of growing, prepared to be patient whilst offering competition to O’Nien and Hume.
It remains to be seen what path Sunderland go down, but it is an excellent problem for both the manager and the club to have.
The 20-year-old’s career appears only to be heading in one direction.
ETHAN ROBSON & ELLIOT EMBLETON
One of the key areas Parkinson is looking to mould his squad in the coming week is in midfield.
Key pieces of the puzzle he is still trying to piece together are Ethan Robson and Elliot Embleton.
As it stands, Parkinson’s preferred shape offers room for four central players.
Two attacking midfielders, and two more orthodox central midfielders.
Embleton, theoretically, could play either, but appears destined for one of the advanced roles.
He returned to full training this week and last Thursday, Parkinson could not have been firmer in stressing the role he can play.
Parkinson has watched clips of Embleton in action, for Grimsby last season, at Sunderland and at international youth level.He has unsurprisingly been impressed with his ability and vision to unlock defences. Crucially, he believes the time on the sidelines, while immensely frustrating for the player, has allowed him the chance to do the conditioning work vital for the rigours of League One.
He believes he could be a ‘bonus player’, and as such, there could be a knock-on effect.
With Marc McNulty as it stands staying at the club (that situation could change) and Duncan Watmore a regular in the squad, he is relatively well-stocked while Gooch and Maguire are in such exceptional form.
The primary priority, then, would seemingly be for an orthodox central midfielder.
George Dobson and Max Power have formed an effective partnership but Parkinson wants cover, against the prospect of both injury and suspension.
Another addition seems certain, at which point it will be up to Robson to try and fight his way into the picture.
He returned from a successful loan at Grimsby Town with a glowing reference from Ian Holloway, and made an instant impression in training.
His technical ability has never been in doubt but he also showed he had the potential to execute Parkinson’s significant demands off the ball, too.
As of yet, the Black Cats boss has not yet made a definitive decision and having not been in the last two matchday squads, his options are wide open.
At the heart of the dilemma is a balance Sunderland need to strike, between having the experience and quality required to achieve their short-term goals, and the necessity of ensuring there is a pathway for their best young talents to grow.
There’s a happy medium to be found, and that will be central to what Parkinson attempts to achieve over the next week.