In hindsight, Sunderland’s January transfer window won’t go down as one of the best in recent years.
From selling a first choice centre back and not replacing him to the signing of Jermain Defoe, some incredibly daft decisions were made during the window.
Yet out of the carnage and the chaos came a man from Fleetwood and, once the dust had settled, a player who has quickly become one I enjoy watching play in red and white.
Jay Matete signed on transfer deadline day, meaning that his arrival on Wearside was almost completely overshadowed by the Defoe homecoming.
Since making his debut and then the subsequent games, Matete has become an important cog in the Alex Neil machine.
Having a player in the middle of the park who isn’t afraid to carry the ball deep into opposition territory in order to break up play or make things happen is a real asset in any division, but none more so than in a league in which so many teams sit deep and wait to be attacked.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen our fair share of these teams - Fleetwood, Crewe and Gillingham tried to frustrate the hell out of us, and luckily we had enough about us to beat all three of them.
Matete started and finished two of these three games, and his style of play is complementary to the way we have been able to grind down these teams who love nothing more than time-wasting and other frustration tactics.
Saturday’s 2-1 win at Oxford was an example of what Matete brings to the table against sides who will get in our face and try to beat us.
It was a huge game for both sides, and you could sense that from the way both sides started.
Matete lined up alongside Corry Evans, and the defensive covering from Evans and the space left by the advanced Oxford players gave Matete a freer role than he has perhaps been used to in recent weeks.
This proved vital, and a top performance from him was topped off by playing a crucial role in Elliot Embleton’s 89th-minute winner.
It may not always be a fashionable job in the team, but Matete puts in the level of graft that we both want and need in a midfield player.
We are well and truly into the ‘squeaky bum time’ period of the League One season and with the games coming thick and fast between now and the end of April, it’s vital that every player selected by Alex Neil pulls their weight.
Matete has been a regular starter in a side that hasn’t set the world alight, but has quietly put together a run of form that is a million miles away from the woeful one win in ten run we kicked off 2022 with.
It’s been said by some of my fellow RR writers that Neil has taken us back to basics. In Jay Matete, we’ve got a player who is thriving at the basics and then some on a football pitch.
At 21 years old, Matete is also a player who has years ahead of him, but who is also playing like a player with years of experience under his belt.
His progress so far is impressive; watching this grow in the coming years will (hopefully) be just as exciting to follow.