As far as seasons go, it’s been one of frustration for Dennis Cirkin. The left back has been restricted to long spells in the side through not one but two significant injuries.
Despite him making over 20 appearances in the Championship this season, it feels as though since the World Cup break he’s barely been around. However, when he has played he’s been a bright spark in a side that has contained more than few of those.
Although he is still only 20, the fact Cirkin has been around our first team for much of the 18 or so months he’s been a Sunderland player. It’s perhaps for this reason that he doesn’t feel like one of our younger players, despite his age.
During his time on Wearside he has staked his claim well for the starting left back spot. Unfortunately he, like his left sided defensive partner Aji Alese, has had a campaign riddled with injury.
Cirkin was one of two players to limp away from our 1-0 defeat at Middlesbrough back in September. This initial injury saw him miss five matches, but he had one hell of a return to the side. The former Spurs fullback assisted Elliot Embleton and then scored the winner as the Lads came from behind to beat Wigan 2-1.
His goal was an example of him going in where the sun doesn’t shine - his second goal of the season in February would be more of this and then some.
More on that one slightly later.
In the first half of the season, Cirkin was one of the many players who seamlessly made the step up from League One to the Championship. Including the Wigan game, he would go on to play every minute of six consecutive games before injury ahead of the trip to Birmingham in November restricted him to less and more erratic minutes on the pitch.
Since going off injured against Blackburn on Boxing Day, Cirkin has clocked less than 100 minutes of first team football. His latest injury is the prolonged effects of a pretty nasty smackdown at Millwall.
His headed goal in the 1-1 draw at the Den was a textbook example of taking one for the team. Unfortunately, it was an effort that has seen him miss much of the last six weeks. However, he looks well on his way to being available for the trip to Burnley after the international break and fingers crossed we’ll see plenty of him between now and May.
Speaking about his campaign earlier this week, Cirkin described it as ‘stop-start’ but suggested that this hasn’t got him too down. He said: “I’ve really enjoyed it so far, it’s been a stop-start season but at the same time I’ve loved watching the boys play.”
The nature of life in the second tier in comparison to the third is something that Cirkin has noticed too. He added: “The speed of the game - everything is quicker, the players you play against every week are top quality. In League One there were a lot of long balls, but the Championship is technically very good.”
We’ve seen enough of Cirkin to realise he is a very good footballer who no doubt, like plenty of our other younger players, will have a top career. It’s frustrating for us as fans not being able to see more of him, but you’d wager that it’s far more frustrating for Cirkin being unable to get a good run in the team.
Cirkin’s return to the fold will see him need to displace Luke O’Nien who, as he so often does, has filled in at left back very well. Having a fully fit Dennis Cirkin will only add to our back line and keeping him fit for the run-in and beyond will be great for all involved.
It’s not been too much of an issue this season due to both being injured, but the battle for the left back spot between Cirkin and Alese looks set to be fascinating next year. Competition is healthy, and having them both back ahead of what will be another long campaign in the Championship will be vital.