It’s Josh Scowen’s 28th birthday today, and the Hertfordshire-born central midfielder can be proud of his achievements so far at Sunderland AFC. In and out of the side under Phil Parkinson at the end of last season and the beginning of this, he's become a fixture in Lee Johnson’s in-form team. His tenacity and energy has been often noted, and is crucial to the pressing that’s proven so successful in recent months, but he also brings vital experience to the side.
So let’s have a look back and see how he came to be a trusted lieutenant at the heart of the Black Cats’ midfield.
Scowen started out at Wycombe Wanderers, where he was part of the junior-set up from the age of 14, and made his first team debut two days before his 18th birthday in March 2011, signing as professional a month later. He was initially sent out on loan at Hemel Hempstead and then Eastbourne, an experience he said helped him adapt to men’s football, but which was cut short by Gareth Ainsworth, who brought him straight back into his squad after taking over from Gary Waddock in September 2012.
Ainsworth really believed in him, and Scowen would go one to excel in League 2. In 2014, as Wycombe got off to a flyer, the talented Scowen started attracting attention from a range of clubs in higher divisions, and the January transfer window. He was offered new contract at Adam’s Park, but instead chose to make a move to League One with Barnsley. “It was time for me to move on”, he later explained, the Tykes “were a good club with a great fanbase, already in the league above and had just come down from the Championship”.
On his departure, after 100 games and 3 goals, Ainsworth heaped praise on the 22-year-old who’d come through the ranks at the club he loved:
Nobody wanted to keep Josh at Wycombe more than I did, and we did everything we could to persuade him to stay, but it’s difficult for us to compete with bigger clubs in higher divisions.
It’s been a pleasure to work with Josh and I’m proud of the giant steps he’s taken in terms of his development from being a fringe player before my time here, to one of the division’s top players. We wish him every success with his new club.
During his two and a half years in South Yorkshire he developed further as a player, working under Lee Johnson for a year and, after the boss departed to Bristol City, won EFL Trophy and promotion to Championship. He played at right-back during the 2016 League 1 playoff final, and made 44 appearances in the second tier as Barnsley finished a respectable 14th the following season.
The next move was to join Ian Holloway at fellow Championship side Queen’s Park Rangers in the summer of 2017, the West Londoners offering him a better deal than the one on offer at Oakwell. He was a fixture in Holloway’s side, scoring the odd memorable goal including one against his old side Barnsley in 2018, but QPR’s failure to progress from the bottom half of the table led to a succession of managerial changes, and despite becoming a favourite of at least some of the fans, he was in and out of the Rangers side. As the Lost for Words blog telling Roker Report back in 2020:
Scowen arrived just after Luke Freeman, and the pair of them were sort of the golden boys for Holloway, forming a midfield three with Mass Luongo around which the whole team was built. He did the dog work, Luongo ran box to box, and Freeman played ten. It worked really well while Holloway was here, although it caused problems elsewhere with us trying to play wing backs and a back three which we weren’t particularly well set up for.
After Holloway left he got on the wrong side of Steve McClaren almost immediately.
In January 2020, Scowen was made available by QPR and Phil Parkinson was attracted enough by Scowen’s talents to make him one of his January signings as he sought to turn around Sunderland’s ailing League One campaign. Parkinson told The Echo:
We identified him early in the window and it took a while to get the deal over the line, as we were competing with several other clubs for his signature. We have been patient, and the chairman and the board have worked hard to finalise a deal this afternoon.
Josh has a promotion from League One on his CV, and a lot of Championship experience. He can play in a number of different roles and he will bring real quality to the squad, especially in that midfield area.
He signed on a 18 month deal, but with a clause allowing him to return to the Championship if we failed to get promoted in 2020, one that he decided not to activate last summer.
Although often played as a defensive midfielder, he has also operated in more of an advanced role, particularly on the right. Versatility is certainly a prized asset in the modern game in general, and since being reunited with old boss Johnson, he has flourished as Max Power – a player with similar attributes with whom he initially competed for game-time – has shifted to right back.
In the 32 games that he has started for the club, Sunderland have won almost 70 per cent, including the EFL Trophy final. He is often sent out to do the post-match player interviews, and speaks well, showing a good understanding of the game and a commitment to the cause. He really is a player who fans know will put in complete commitment, maximum effort and will lay his body on the line for the cause.
What more can we ask, if it brings results for the team?
A return of only two EFL Trophy goals over the last 14 months is perhaps not what we were first expecting, and he has only one assist to his name this season, yet Scowen’s harrying, tough-tackling game has gradually won over many supporters who may have initially struggled to identify his role in the team.
Personally, I think he’s got an awful lot more to offer and I’d like to see him be more ambitious and direct in the final third – we know he’s got a neat pass and a shot on him but we rarely see them deployed when the ball is at his feet in range of goal. QPR fans told us he feeds off the crowd, and we saw a little of that last year, so once we’re back in the Stadium of Light I hope the atmosphere will bring the best of out of him.
Now in the prime years of his career, the next ten games will be the most important Scowen has played to-date. If he can stay fit, continue to build partnerships with players like Carl Winchester, create more and get on the scoresheet too, it may be that he will earn himself another deal at Sunderland and have another shot at the the Championship.
Happy birthday, Josh!