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Aji Alese – the ‘East End Mackem’ – gets his Sunderland career off to a superb start

Few Sunderland supporters had heard of Aji Alese when we signed him in July. What a signing he could turn out to be...

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

A lot has been made of Sunderland’s summer recruitment.

‘Inexperienced.’

‘Not enough bodies.’

While these are valid points, and our squad may lack depth, the little depth we do have are starting to show what they’re worth.

The signing of Aji Alese came out of the blue however the immediate reaction from West Ham fans was that of confusion and anger. This then filtered through to the north east, leaving fans very optimistic about the 21-year-old.

Sunderland Unveil New Signing Aji Alese Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

During pre-season, it was clear that Alese was not Alex Neil’s first choice and although the youth England international did rack up quite a few minutes, he was often used in the ‘b-team’ games.

The performances of Dennis Cirkin, Danny Batth, Dan Ballard and, later on, Luke O’Nien left Alese with an unclear pathway through to the starting XI and many people questioning whether he was ready for Championship football yet.

His performance in the Carabao Cup game against Sheffield Wednesday didn’t exactly help his cause with the manager as he did look weak and slow up against the Owls’ attack that day.

The injury to Dennis Cirkin at ‘Boro meant it was a toss-up between Bailey Wright and Aji Alese to replace the former Tottenham man. A tough decision for new Head Coach Tony Mowbray - experience in the Australian international or the straight swap, left-footed Alese.

Because of the reasons previously mentioned, it was a shock when Alese was named in the line up to face Reading. It became public knowledge that Bailey Wright had personal issues to tend to, which explained the defence that night.

The quality of our three goals against the Royals totally overshadowed just how good Alese was on what was his full Championship debut. He was quick, strong in the air, good in one-on-one situations, and looked comfortable going forward as he tested Lumley from about 25 yards out.

The clean sheet must have been a real confidence boost, too.

Reading v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

After turning in such a performance, it would have been very easy for Alese to rest on his laurels. But he arguably produced an even better performance against Watford, despite conceding twice.

Once again, Alese was quick and dominant in the air and his performance against Joao Pedro was acknowledged when Watford manager, Rob Edwards, moved the Brazilian into the middle of the pitch in the second half.

Alese got us back in the game just before the halftime whistle with his first professional goal, and his display was the highlight of a pretty poor first-half showing from the Lads.

In the last few days, Alese has played his first two 90-minute league games for us and has shown exactly why West Ham fans reacted how they did to his departure. Hopefully, for himself and the club, he can stay fit and continue his magnificent form going into October as he’s only going to improve!

Watford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images
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