With just over a week to go until the start of the Championship season, Simon Grayson’s matchday squad is starting to take shape.
The pre-season form and application of Wahbi Khazri and Jeremain Lens is encouraging, but should still be treated with caution. Lens in particular showed his views towards the club on several occasions whilst on loan at Fenerbahce, and his summer efforts thus far could be his attempt and putting himself in the thoughts of potential suitors. On the other hand, Simon Grayson may be the man to get the best out of a man who has the raw ability to be the best player in the division.
Josh Maja’s emergence is hugely exciting. He looks almost ready for the first team and would come equipped with many of the attributes required to lead the line. His first touch is very impressive, and his willingness to bring others into play is a trait seldom seen from a frontman on Wearside. Couple that with a composure in front of goal, decent pace and a powerful, lean physique, Sunderland may just have an uncut diamond in their ranks.
That being said, it is still important that Grayson gets a few more bodies over the line before the end of the transfer window. Vito Mannone’s departure has paved the way for trialist Robbin Ruiter to potentially come in, and judging by the Ross McCormack rumours, a forward is still a priority.
This week, we look at a player who enjoyed a very impressive breakthrough season in League Two last year: Luton Town’s James Justin.
Of all of the areas of Sunderland’s squad that may still need attention, Billy Jones, Ty Browning and Donald Love would tell you that right-back isn’t one of them. That being said, if an opportunity to add an exceptional young talent comes along, you’d be daft to pass up on it.
James Justin is the kind of modern day full-back that Sunderland still haven’t come across, not counting Rose and Alonso - the loanees that sharpened their chops for a season before establishing themselves as two of the best in Europe. He has searing pace, and the kind of engine that allows him to get up and down the right flank for ninety minutes.
In his 30 league appearances last year – of which 24 were starts – Justin weighed in with a solitary goal and a couple of assists in a side that were beaten in the League Two play-off final. It’s a return that Justin will expect to improve on wherever he is playing his football next year, but for a young player in his first season in first team football it’s a respectable starting point.
Justin is at his most comfortable marauding forward, but is solid defensively, too. He is strong in the challenge and has a good positional sense, and his physical attributes are hugely impressive for a teenager. He has the potential to be Premier League full-back in the not too distant future if he can find the right club to cultivate his rare natural ability.
Luton have already turned down a seven-figure bid from Forest this summer, and will expect to be fielding several more before the end of August. Bristol City and Leicester City have also been credited with an interest in Justin, but a club like Sunderland could be the ideal place to continue his development.
Simon Grayson is manager with a knack for building hardworking squad with a balance of youth and experience on a shoestring, and Justin could benefit from his shrewdness in that department.