In the summer, I think it’s fair to say that most of us expected Bailey Wright to leave Sunderland for pastures new.
After all, he’d been linked heavily with a move to Wigan, and given he was out of favour, and one of the older players in the squad - with a pretty sketchy injury history since arriving at the club from Bristol City - most supporters were happy enough to see him move on.
Media reports at the time suggested that a move to join up with the Latics had been agreed fairly early on into August, but the completion of it was dependent on Sunderland securing an adequate replacement before the end of the month.
For whatever reason, the deal didn’t come off. Bailey was destined to stay here, until January at least, and found himself firmly behind Tom Flanagan and newcomer Callum Doyle in the pecking order, with Fred Alves also arriving on loan from West Ham.
But, as the games came thick and fast, so did injuries to key players all over the pitch, and slowly but surely Wright once again found himself back in the fold.
Losing every one of our full-backs to injuries meant that Lee Johnson was forced to re-think his tactical plan, and one of the biggest issues we had during our mini blip that started at the end of October was that we were conceding too many daft goals which came from crosses down the flanks - and our wingers copped a lot of flack for it.
To be fair to Leon Dajaku, he’s probably never had to defend as much as he’s had to over the last few months, so when he looked overly exposed trying to play as a wing-back initially, it’s hardly surprising. That said, we’ve seen a big improvement in him recently - and it’s been the reintroduction of Bailey Wright to the starting eleven that has allowed him to kick on.
Whilst plenty of other players have rightly received credit for their individual performances in recent games, Wright has rapidly become one of our most important players - and it’s his new role in a new system that has allowed him to prove his worth.
I mean no offence when I say this, but in the three seasons he’s been with the club, I never really got the impression that he was particularly gifted on the ball - until recently, that is.
This current Sunderland side looks incredibly comfortable in possession from back to front, and Wright has been no different to his teammates in that regard.
In Lee Johnson’s current system, Bailey plays between two positions - in some situations, he’s playing as a third central defender on the right of a three, but in others he’s high up the pitch like a modern-day right back, getting involved with the attacks, and covering for the winger who is playing ahead of him.
I always thought that he was too slow and too uncomfortable on the ball to be able to contribute to the side in this way, but he’s really shown a different side to his game recently that has opened my eyes - credit has to be given where it’s due, because the lad has been terrific recently and has proven lots of his doubters wrong.
The ball that he played into the box for Ross Stewart’s third goal on Thursday night was evidence of how reenergised and confident he is this season - he’s been given a new lease of life, and is clearly enjoying his football at present, playing in his new role.
He isn’t going to make lung-busting runs forward into wide areas, but his close control of the ball is good, and he’s clever at finding more technically-gifted teammates when we’re in dangerous areas of the pitch. He’s not wasteful and he doesn’t try to do things that he knows he’s not capable of doing - the mark of a truly unselfish footballer.
Obviously, the other big part of all of this has been the way he’s managed his fitness. For the first time since arriving, he’s managed to put a big run of starts together, and like Alex Pritchard, that’s led to him being able to contribute a high level of performance over a consistent run of games.
If Wright can keep himself off the treatment table, he’ll play every game between now and the end of the season, because whilst recently he’s shown his quality on the ball, there’s also the quality that he has off the ball to consider - chiefly, his leadership and his organisational skills, which undoubtedly will benefit some of the younger lads in the team.
So, hats off Bailey - you’ve been magnificent recently, and I just wanted to give you the credit that you deserve for not only turning around your performances of late, but also your Sunderland career. Here’s to many more appearances in red and white!