If I had written any sort of prediction piece in pre-season about who Sunderland’s key players were going to be this year, I sincerely doubt that Carl Winchester’s name would had even entered the conversation.
The fact that Winiesta has almost completely cut out any sort of talk of a so-called ‘specialist’ right back being drafted into his position speaks volumes of the performances he has put in, and how he is rated by the club and fans alike.
Saturdays’ win against Accrington was another excellent victory. The team is playing with a vigour and exuberance that I have never witnessed in my 26 years supporting this club.
The players look happy, and that can be seen in the way they are expressing themselves on the pitch. It appears to be a content club and for once, Sunderland has players at their disposal who want to play for the shirt and have embraced the pressures that come with playing for them.
No one sums this up more than Carl Winchester.
Signed last January from Forest Green, the man from Belfast was drafted in as a central midfielder who Lee Johnson identified as a player who could play in his style. From managing him before, it was clear the Sunderland gaffer rated him.
Last season was a bit of a mixed bag for Winchester, though. It would be unfair to suggest that he performed badly. However, at times, he may have looked somewhat underwhelming.
It must be suggested that like most players, he needed time to bed into his new surroundings and style of play, especially considering he arrived from a league below.
There were some eyebrows raised in the first game of this season when Winchester started the game right back. As the club's methodical and patient approach to signings in the transfer window continued, Lee Johnson was left with very few options to choose from. He went with the Northern Irishman.
What has followed has been a revelation.
Coolness personified, Winchester has brought a touch of class to the defence. His composure on the ball is not only easy on the eye but an excellent outlet when he is linking up with the Sunderland wingers ahead of him.
It is somewhat unusual to see a Sunderland defender who makes it look like he has all the time on the ball in his own box. The same in fact can be said for the whole defence this season who look supremely confident.
Some of this credit must go to Lee Johnson.
In addition to his ball-playing ability, Winchester has offered himself to be a fantastic threat going forward. Already this season, he has scored two winning goals at the Stadium of Light in the games against AFC Wimbeldon and Accrington Stanley.
Furthermore, his defending has been top-notch.
He is neat, tidy and extremely clean in the tackle. Winchester is not one to shirk a challenge, but he has also displayed immense strength and capabilities to hassle and harry without having to be last-ditch with his challenges.
His fitness is also immense. He has found himself up and down the wing constantly throughout the game - possibly more so than his teammate Denis Cirkin on the opposite flank.
There is an aura of complete self-confidence with Winchester - he appears happy and content, and enjoying his football.
Lee Johnson has said as much when he said after the Wimbledon game:
Carl himself just loves playing here.
It’s the biggest club he has been at by a long way, and this was probably the biggest crowd he has scored in front of, and that means a lot, particularly when you’re 28 and really should have played at a higher level earlier on in his career.
Everything oozes of a man who is at the peak of his powers - and with the persistent humorous cheers for him to shoot anytime he is anywhere near the opposition box, it is evident that the fans appreciating him too.
This was further reinforced with his role within the club’s ‘World Suicide Day’ video last week - Winchester’s face appeared in the video along with Louise Griffiths and Charlotte Potts which was released to raise awareness and open conversation about mental health.
It may seem like a minor thing, but it is important as it reinforces how engrossed he appears to be in the club right now.
With the consistently high standard performances, not only is he an early pick for player of the season, Carl Winchester is slowly becoming one of the first cult heroes of the Lee Johnson era.
If the rich vein of form continues, it has to be considered that an unlikely man could become integral to the team's quest for promotion.
Long may it last!