What Leeds' Joe Gelhardt has found challenging at Sunderland and why he's benefitting from January loan move

Joe Gelhardt admits it has been a challenge leading Sunderland’s attack in recent weeks – but is embracing the opportunity to play regularly in the Championship.
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The 20-year-old forward made just one Premier League start for parent club Leeds in the first half of the season, but has started five consecutive league games since moving to Wearside on loan.

Gelhardt, who has replaced the injured Ross Stewart in Sunderland’s side, scored his first Black Cats goal during Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at Rotherham, but has predominantly played just behind another striker during his fledgling career.

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The Leeds loanee has often looked to drop deeper and link up play, which Sunderland head coach Tony Mowbray is happy for him to do, yet the Black Cats boss also wants his forward to pose more of a threat in the opposition’s box.

Joe Gelhardt playing for Sunderland against Rotherham United. Picture by FRANK REIDJoe Gelhardt playing for Sunderland against Rotherham United. Picture by FRANK REID
Joe Gelhardt playing for Sunderland against Rotherham United. Picture by FRANK REID

When asked about his role, Gelhardt told the Echo: “I feel like sometimes I have to help in the build-up by dropping in, maybe an extra body to try and get out of the original press from the opposition.

“Then when we get it into that final third I know he wants me in and around the box, middle of the box so when the crosses come in from the wide players I’m there to score.

“It’s just about finding that balance of when to drop deep and when to run in behind but I think I’m getting a better understanding of it.”

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Gelhardt’s five starts for Sunderland have also come less than four weeks apart, with regular midweek matches and lengthy trips to London limiting the squad’s time on the training pitch.

“I haven’t played continuous 90 minutes of football since I was 16, and when I was playing it was under-21s football for Leeds,” Gelhardt added.

“Men’s football is a lot different so I haven’t really had that exposure to 90 minutes in a men's game week in, week out.

“It’s new for me but I’m enjoying the challenge and feel like I’m getting fitter, stronger and getting used to the league so hopefully I can kick on in the next few weeks.”

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“It’s been tough physically and mentally as well. You have to recover from the games physically but game’s like Tuesday it’s going to hurt.

“You have to try and get past that mental stage of feeling down, but they come thick and fast so you have to be ready.”

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“The club is massive and I’m really enjoying it,” replied Gelhardt when asked about his first month at the club.

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“All the lads, the staff, the fans, everyone is great so I’m really enjoying my time here.

“I’m happy to score my first goal, obviously the result didn’t go our way but hopefully that kicks me on now and I can start getting a few more.

“I’m still learning how the other players play but I think it’s getting better every game, the chemistry is growing and I’m enjoying my football at the minute.”