There’s no doubt that, in recent times, Sunderland have often lacked a real powerhouse of a midfielder.
For many years, we were weak in that particular position and our midfield would often be dwarfed whenever it came up against a physical opponent. Strength in the middle was a problem, but what we probably missed even more was a midfielder who could win the ball back and drive us forward.
Last season, we fielded a number of different combinations in the centre of the park.
During the first half of the campaign, Corry Evans was one of the first names on the team sheet, the holding player who helped to anchor things during the majority of our matches. When he picked up a ligament injury at the turn of the year, it left a gap in the middle of the park.
However, one of several January signings made by the club seemed to provide the missing ingredient, and Pierre Ekwah has gone from strength to strength during his short time on Wearside.
It’s probably harsh to compare him to Evans, because the ex-West Ham man has a lot more about him.
His strength on the ball is one thing, but it’s what he can do with it at his feet which makes him such an exciting player, and his close control and ability to find a pass in the tightest of spaces are qualities we’ve been crying out for in a midfielder.
I’ve touched on this before, but I’ll mention it again: Tony Mowbray’s faith in Ekwah has contributed to the big man’s promising rise at Sunderland.
He was guilty of giving away the last-minute penalty which cost us two points during the mad 4-4 draw against Hull City on Good Friday, and although other head coaches may have relegated Ekwah to the bench for the Easter Monday trip to Cardiff, Mowbray started him and he barely put a foot wrong.
This solid performance paved the way for a strong end to the season, which was capped off with an unreal display against the giants of Luton Town in the first leg of the Championship playoffs at the Stadium of Light.
Despite only making his senior league debut back in February, Ekwah looks as though he’s relishing being part of a team in which youth is given licence to grow.
From being a bit-part player who was given the responsibility of coming off the bench and helping to see games out, to being handed starts and tasked with being an enforcer, Ekwah has been a joy to watch in a Sunderland shirt.
A tidy performance in the sweltering Texas heat on Saturday was another good day at the office for him, but what was also nice to see is that in San Antonio and more so in general, it feels like Ekwah just loves being at the club.
It’s rare that he doesn’t have a huge smile on his face, and he’s the epitome of what we want the club to be and what it’s becoming, with a squad full of young players who are enjoying their football and entertaining the fans.
With Chris Rigg potentially on the verge of the first team and the signing of Jobe Bellingham adding to our midfield options, we could see some interesting pairings during the season ahead.
Despite being young, both Ekwah and Dan Neil will have the the edge when it comes to experience and for me, the Frenchman should be one of the first names on the team sheet come August.