What surprised Daniel Ballard on his Sunderland debut as defender discusses move from Arsenal and Alex Neil

Daniel Ballard says he was taken aback by Sunderland’s large home support after making his Black Cats debut against Coventry City.

The central defender, 22, signed a three-year deal at the Stadium of Light, with a club option of a further year, earlier this summer when he arrived from Premier League side Arsenal for a seven-figure fee.

Ballard is no stranger to Championship football after making 31 league appearances on loan at Millwall last season. Still, playing in front of a crowd of 40,851 at the Stadium of Light was a new experience.

“Even in the warm-up it was probably more than what I’ve played in before so to have that support was brilliant,” Ballard told the Echo after the match.

Daniel Ballard playing for Sunderland against Coventry. Picture by Frank Reid

“Especially in the first half I thought we had an excellent half, I thought we played well and to have them behind you, especially when we scored the goal, it’s a noise you don’t hear at many places.”

He added: “I was taken aback a bit by the crowd and the stadium, I’ve not really played in front of many atmospheres like that, especially at home.

“I was really surprised by that and it gives you a boost that I haven’t really had before.

"I have played in front of big crowds before but it’s usually the opposition fans. To have them on your side it’s a big boost and they really do help.”

Ballard also made 30 appearances for Blackpool during the 2020/21 season, where he played alongside Elliot Embleton and new Sunderland signing Ellis Simms.

The defender has admitted he spoke with Embleton before signing for the Black Cats, while pre-season has given him a chance to settle in at the club.

“I’ve really enjoyed it so far,” said Ballard.

"It was of course nice to know a few of the lads, they helped me settle in and obviously Ellis Simms has just joined so we’ll help him settle in as well.

“It’s a really good bunch of lads who have made it easy.”

During his time at Millwall, Ballard showed he is a defender who likes to step out with the ball from the back and be progressive with his passes.

Sunderland boss Alex Neil will be looking to utilise that side of the defender’s game and Ballard says he’s already benefiting from working with the Scot.

“I’ve already learnt a lot under him and that was another exciting thing about coming to the club was getting to work with the gaffer,” Ballard replied when asked about Neil’s instructions.

“I already feel like he has improved my game a lot and throughout the season I’m sure it will get even better.”

The defender also says that Sunderland’s ambition and fanbase were big factors in his decision to join the club.

“I think the size of the club and the ambition where it’s been before they want to get back there,” he added.

“There are not many clubs with that sort of ambition and that history and of course the fanbase is huge.

“That’s something if I can go and showcase my stuff in front of 40,000 people, of course that’s something I would love to do.”