Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray must unleash summer signing Aji Alese after Dennis Cirkin went off injured against Middlesbrough on Monday night.
The young defender, who joined from Tottenham Hotspur in August 2021, had started and completed 90 minutes in all of Sunderland’s Championship fixtures this season until he was forced off at the Riverside on Monday evening with a hamstring problem.
Following the game, Mowbray provided an update on the 20-year-old but suggested that the severity of his injury was unclear.
He said: “It’s the same as Ross [Stewart] really. I don’t know how bad it is. It’s his hamstring rather than his thigh, so that suggests a fatigue injury really with the repetition of games he’s played.”
Since joining from Spurs, Cirkin has been a regular fixture in Sunderland’s side, making 47 appearances in which he has contributed no goals and two assists.
He has also shown his versatility, moving from left-back to centre-back under Alex Neil, so to lose him as well as long-term absentee Daniel Ballard will surely worry Mowbray, especially now that the transfer window has closed.
While he didn’t exactly set the world alight on his full debut in the League Cup against Sheffield Wednesday, earning a poor 6.3 match rating, he arrived at the Stadium of Light with rave reviews, with former West Ham Under-23s boss Dmitri Halajko singing his praises earlier this year.
He said: “He’s quick, good on the ball, he has a nice left foot, good range of passing and defends well in one-on-one situations.
“He’s a reliable, mature young man. But, most important, he’s a quiet leader. His leadership skills are at a high level.”
Indeed, he was also described as a “seriously good player” in an episode of the We Are West Ham Podcast by Tom Edwards.
Cirkin, who reportedly earns £3.4k per week at the club, has been hugely impressive in each of Sunderland’s last two wins, earning a 7.44 rating from WhoScored for the 3-0 win against Rotherham and a 7.42 rating in the 1-0 win at Stoke, which shows how vital he was in those victories and clean sheets.
Former manager Lee Johnson highlighted Cirkin’s potential during his time at the Stadium of Light, saying:
“Look at a player like Dennis Cirkin, I don’t even feel he’s had 15 or 20 per cent tapped into his true potential. What we could do with him and what he could do with himself is frightening.
“It’s exciting times.”
While it will be tough to replace Cirkin if he is out of action for a while, this could be Alese’s chance to show what he is made of, so Mowbray should hand him a rare start when Sunderland face Millwall this weekend.