Heading into the New Year period, Dion Sanderson was very much a bit part of this Sunderland side.
The 21-year-old had started just two matches for the Mackems and it was looking like a failed loan spell.
The defender arrived from Wolves last summer but it’s taken until recent months for the young prodigy to finally make his mark.
His form has been exemplary too. Sanderson has formed part of a centre-back pairing that kept five clean sheets in a row prior to the 1-1 draw with Lincoln.
It almost defies belief, therefore, that he didn’t receive much of a chance in the early months of the season. It will be a decision that Phil Parkinson rues but one that’s seen Lee Johnson take Sunderland to the next level.
With Sanderson in their backline, the Black Cats have risen to third in the League One table. He has stepped up admirably with a number of defenders out injured.
Without troubles to the likes of Tom Flanagan, Jordan Willis and Bailey Wright, he wouldn’t have got a chance.
His opportunity has come about as mere good fortune. That being said, he has taken it on excellently and flourished under the stewardship of Johnson.
Sanderson has started nine consecutive league games at centre-half, winning 18 aerial duels and making 30 clearances over that time frame. His numbers are phenomenal and as a result of his performances, Sunderland want him back next season; that’s regardless of the division they’re in.
It’s something that Kevin Phillips would love to see. Speaking exclusively to Football FanCast, he said: “He’s been very impressive and has looked assured and confident on the ball, so yes, it’s no surprise he’s getting linked.”
Phillips continued: “I hope that he finishes the season strongly and helps them go up. I’d love to see him stay at the club next year because I think he’ll just continue to get better.”
If Sunderland don’t achieve promotion then bringing him back to the Stadium of Light will surely be much harder for Kristjaan Speakman. After all, the young defender has already played at Championship level for Cardiff City.
If you heed the notion from Phillips that Sanderson will only get better, it’s hard to see his future in the third tier.
He has been so impressive and so vital to Sunderland that they simply have to try and bring him back. Wolves will have little use for him in the Premier League so it would be surprising if a deal couldn’t be struck.
That being said, it will surely all hinge on promotion. Johnson knows what he must do.