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The redemption of Adam Matthews; a man rejuvenated by Sunderland’s appointment of Chris Coleman

Adam Matthews finally looks settled into life as a Sunderland player - and it’s in no small part due to the manager in the dugout, who has shown complete faith in him since the day he walked through the door.

Hibernian v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Adam Matthews
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

When Adam Matthews signed for Sunderland in 2015, his switch from Scottish champions Celtic could perhaps be seen in the light of a new recruitment policy, aimed at bringing in young, hungry players, developing them and making a profit within a few years.

Matthews fit the bill. He’d won international caps with Wales, domestic medals and experienced European football at a well-supported club prior to arriving at Sunderland. Advocaat’s initial comments were that we’d signed a player who, at 23, was ready to be improved.

Celtic v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League
Matthews versus Barcelona
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Matthews certainly had potential.

He’d made the first team squad at Cardiff City at the age of 17. He was a regular the following season, scoring a 50-yard free-kick against Watford.

By the time he had turned 19 he’d signed a pre-contract agreement with Scottish giants Celtic - and he made his international debut a few months later.

During his time in Glasgow, Matthews was linked with a move to the Premier League, first with Fulham, then Everton and Manchester United.

But there was also a history to be wary of.

In the final years of his Celtic career, Matthews began to pick up injuries and niggles that frustratingly kept him out of the side.

The 2013-14 season was littered with injuries - a hamstring problem kept him out of pre-season and a collarbone fracture, a fever and a calf injury meant he was missing between October and February. Thigh problems then put him out from the end of March until the end of September.

That would be the start of his final year with Celtic, where again he had niggles which limited his involvement.

This was his recent history when the club paid £2m for his services. Despite coming off the bench against Leicester City in our opening game, Matthews would make only two appearances for the Lads after rupturing his ankle ligaments a month into his Sunderland career. He was subsequently loaned out to Championship side Bristol City in March 2016, where he made nine appearances and helped to keep the club in the league. Reports at the time suggested that Lee Johnson wanted to sign him, but finances were tight and so the clubs agreed upon a second loan.

Bristol City v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship
On loan at Bristol City
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

This spell didn’t turn out so well. Matthews suffered a hamstring tear in August and would only make six starts all season. Dropped for minor misdemeanors in November, it looked like the season-long loan wasn’t going to end in a permanent deal. Injuries continued to play their part and Matthews returned to Sunderland for the current season.

Two years in, and yet to make his full league debut, Matthews was reintroduced to the squad and took part in the customary ‘new boy sings’ initiation. The rendition was so good that maybe he’d have more luck with another Simon - Cowell, rather than Grayson.

The big question, however, was had injuries and a stop-start career since he was 21 put paid to that potential he’d shown as a developing teenager?

Despite reports that he was catching Grayson’s eye, Matthews only made two starts in the League Cup and two substitute appearances in the opening six weeks of the campaign.

However, he was a fixture in the match-day squad and injuries were being put behind him. What he needed was a chance.

Nottingham Forest came to town in mid-September and Adam Matthews finally started a league game for Sunderland.

He made seven consecutive starts before being dropped for the trip to Brentford and then sat out the visit of his former club, Bristol City - it felt that perhaps a fourth Sunderland manager was about to give up on him.

Matthews’ second chance came when he replaced the injured Billy Jones on 27 minutes at the Riverside as caretaker manager Robbie Stockdale looked on, going on to retain his place against Millwall a week later - a game remembered for calamitous goalkeeping from both sides, it also saw Matthews score his first goal for the club: a long range effort after advancing down the right hand side.

The Welsh fullback had worked his way back into the starting eleven just as Coleman landed. Since then Matthews has been an ever-present and part of a revitalised defence, keeping three clean sheets in the last 4 games.

The potential that had brought him into Cardiff’s first team and a switch to Celtic as a teenager may finally be getting air time over a disappointing injury record.

His link up play with the wide man and his desire to attack has given us an outlet. His adaptability to switch flanks and work as hard down the left has been well received. His defending has improved as part of Coleman’s concerted efforts in creating a team that is hard to beat - and, finally, the switch to the current formation has allowed Matthews to blend both of those together as a wing-back.

In arguably his best game for the Lads on Saturday, Matthews registered his first assist with a deft ball into Josh Maja. With a neat first touch, strong turn and shot, Maja brought an end to the 364-day record without a home win.

Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Perhaps this small action sums up Matthews - a player who has regained full fitness, is steadily improving as the season goes on, and an attacking full back in the process of being rejuvenated.

Perhaps even more than that. Matthews represents the wider Sunderland team and the improvements under Coleman.

Starting the season uncertain of his role, lacking confidence, and largely being left on the bench, Matthews was a player - like the club - going nowhere fast.

In the last few weeks, working under a manager who can get the best out of him, Matthews has progressed from reserve right-back to an important part of Coleman’s team. Having registered his first goal and now the assist to break the home-win hoodoo, Matthews has finally grabbed the chance to build a career at Sunderland.

With 18-months left on his contract and due to turn 26 next month, perhaps he, like the team as a whole, will now kick on and we can watch his development over the next few years rather than constantly looking back on earlier struggles.

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