It has been pleasing over the last few games to see Abdoullah Ba in our starting lineup. When Patrick Roberts was injured, Tony Mowbray turned to our young midfielder to fill his shoes on the right flank and it is fair to say that he has acquitted himself well in a position not entirely natural to him.
It is a year since Ba joined Sunderland but he has found time in our starting lineup hard to come by on a regular basis. It has hardly been his fault that his task has been to force his way into a side that, in that time, was performing well and to win a place ahead of players who had been performing well in his favoured midfield role, such as Dan Neil, Corry Evans and then later on, Pierre Ekwah.
But, showing that even at his young age what a great attitude he has, when Tony Mowbray asked him last season to play a few games as a forward, he made a real go of it. With the skill set in his repertoire to trouble defenders, even though he probably lacks the pace, he grabbed the opportunity to start against Norwich, made a complete nuisance of himself and even scored a goal. Indeed, in the games that he played as forward, you can go as far to say he looked like he was enjoying himself.
Again this season, when Tony Mowbray has asked him to play in our right wing berth he has shown plenty of attacking intent, with some neat skill, step overs and full commitment, although again, probably lacking the pace to get by the last man and behind the defence as Patrick Roberts would.
However, he does offer more protection to Trai Hume than Roberts. Our coach has been happy enough with his contribution to declare that the right-wing spot is Ba’s to lose, and I doubt any fan could fault how our young Frenchman has applied himself to the cause.
With such a young player who, before this season, had still yet to have started ten senior games for us, my own preference would be that he gets the opportunity for a run of games in his preferred position – central midfield and maybe even the anchor position, which is where I first saw him play, against Cardiff last November.
From what I saw that day, he looked like he could be a real force in midfield with plenty of important challenges and interceptions - right up until the moment he made a wayward pass.
To be fair, that was the first senior appearance in a Sunderland shirt for a raw young player, and it was something that Pierre Ekwah did too when he made his first appearance for us in the second half of last season and is something that only games and experience at this level eradicates.
Central midfield, and particularly the anchor role, is an important position and carries a great deal of responsibility, but it is not beyond the capability of a young player and does not need an experienced head like Cory Evans, as both Dan Niel and Pierre Ekwah have proven.
Because he is proving himself to be such a good young pro, like Luke O’Nien, Ba is happy to play wherever he is asked and, like Luke O’Nien, applies himself with nothing less than 100% when he sets foot on the pitch. You could never complain about that - if only these guys were around six or seven years ago.
The only downside I feel to Luke O’Nien is that we have rarely seen him in his favoured position – he has probably only started as many games in central midfield as you can count on your fingers. Similarly, Lynden Gooch, who at least two Sunderland managers said was best as a number 10, but played in just about every other position regularly.
I hope with Ba, that as a young player starting his senior career, he doesn’t become a jack of all trades, and instead gets a run of games in his best position so that he can develop his game and show just how good his best is.
With Pierre Ekwah still injured, hasn’t Ba shown enough to be trusted with a more responsible spot in the middle of the pitch?