How enjoyable was last Saturday’s win against Plymouth?
It had been a while.
We had become so used to winning games that the last few weeks was felt worse than the reality suggested. It can be easy to forget how far we have come under Lee Johnson.
There were many aspects to Saturday’s win that impressed me.
Lynden Gooch’s performance.
Bailey Wright’s continued improvement as he gets more game time.
The fantastic mobility that Ross Stewart showed in leading the line and showing an option in behind – something that could be needed should Charlie Wyke’s injury continue to cause concern.
Above all that, however, the player that stood out for me on the weekend was Denver Hume.
While Hume’s performance may not have been exactly top-notch – he is, after all, coming back from a long spell out – there were certainly elements of his game that would have, no doubt, excited any Sunderland fan. A fit Hume going into the play-offs is a prospect to relish.
There was an aura of confidence emanating from our marauding left-back, who appeared extremely hungry with a point to prove. Not surprising, given he has been unavailable for the majority of the Lee Johnson regime. On Saturday, he looked like a player hungry to stand out and show what he is made of.
It goes without saying that we missed Denver Hume during his spell on the sidelines.
We missed his ability to appear in the opposition box, his ability to overlap and link up with the man in front of him so well, and his general higher standards than his predecessor.
This is meant in no disrespect to Callum McFadzean, who I believe genuinely played to his maximum ability in every single game he started for the team. The ultimate fact is that he was bought as understudy to Hume and probably did not anticipate himself to be gifted with the opportunity of so much game time.
However, the difference between the two is like night and day.
Hume gives an option going forward that was not available before. His style of play is akin to how Sheffield United’s full-backs looked at their best in the Premier League last season. The full-backs are like extra wingers and are given the licence to roam forward and create opportunities - almost second wingers.
At times, we noticed this under Phil Parkinson. Games such as Wycombe at home last season spring to mind, and it was apparent again on Saturday.
Hume is extremely effective in this role.
He has this innate ability to arrive into the opposition box in an almost gliding motion, more commonly displayed by a professional skater on Dancing on Ice. He seems to leave defenders confused as to who was meant to be picking him up, while wingers tend not to track him. This is how the goal on Saturday came about.
Lee Johnson’s style of play suits this. When Sunderland are on the front foot, they can be mesmerising, quick and clinical. A roaming Denver Hume along with the speed of Jones, Diamond and Gooch in this team could be a joy to behold.
In the past, Hume was criticised for his final ball.
There was a tendency in the past to hit the first man and lead to attacks breaking down.
This was not the case on Saturday and, as Chris Wynn on our post-game ratings podcast suggested, Hume was pinpoint with the crosses and led to numerous opportunities for Ross Stewart and co up top.
It appears to be an area that has improved and maybe this was something he worked on as he recovered from injury.
As we enter the play-offs, it is imperative that Lee Johnson is clear-minded in his approach and his starting eleven. It appears inevitable that Hume will be his starting left-back, barring any injuries.
Should he be fit, as we hope him to be, Hume will link up with Aiden McGeady on the wing.
McGeady’s close control and ability to suck defenders into him will complement perfectly the free-running style of Hume.
Should they be in form, it will lead to chaos for opposition defenders as they will be so focused on McGeady that maybe Hume could go under the radar.
The ace in the pack.
Denver Hume is a player playing below his level. He started with Sunderland as a youth but is increasingly becoming a man and a leader in this team. His presence has been sorely missed this season, but he has returned at the perfect time.
It is a fantastic opportunity for him to show his worth and show what we have missed this season.
There’s a real chance that, in a few weeks’ time, when all is said and done, we will look back on how prominent a role Hume played in the play-offs.