As cameos go, it was certainly memorable.
Three gloriously cheeky pirouettes (the third of which was actually comically botched and required Dennis Cirkin to tidy up and retain possession) and an accurate cross for Chris Rigg to head home was all it took for Jewison Bennette to stamp his mark on Saturday’s memorable destruction of Southampton.
The Costa Rican winger was introduced by Tony Mowbray when the game was all but done and dusted, in what felt like a very canny piece of management. Off the bench he came and into the Saturday afternoon sunshine, and it was a real pleasure to see the youngster do his thing.
Sending Bennette into the fray if the game had been tight and the result hanging in the balance could’ve backfired, but letting him loose against a visibly ragged Saints backline was the right move and it paid off- even if Russell Martin and his men didn’t take too kindly to his showboating!
As if that wasn’t enough, Bennette backed up his contribution on Saturday by scoring the equalising goal for our U21 team, who somehow battled back from 0-5 down to draw 5-5 with Manchester United on Sunday.
It was quite an eventful weekend for the youngster!
I was delighted that Bennette wasn’t loaned out before the transfer window closed on Friday evening, even if his year-long spell at Sunderland hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
Unlike Elliot Embleton, whose loan move to Derby was well-judged as he continues to recover from a serious injury, sending Bennette into League One to potentially be kicked from pillar to post by the boot boys of Wycombe and the like would’ve served no purpose whatsoever.
As a young player in his position it’s vital for him to feel wanted and valued by the club and the supporters, and that certainly seemed to be the case on Saturday. When he was sent out to warm up, the reception he received was excellent, as it was when he entered the game and eventually set up Rigg for a fairytale goal.
What we’re seeing with Bennette, as we are with many of our young prodigies, is the growth of a footballer in front of our very eyes.
As supporters who are desperate to see the team progress, that’s not always an easy task and nor should it be, but it’s an extremely organic way of building a team, and the results, although they may take some time to arrive, could certainly be worth it.
Despite the up-and-down nature of his Sunderland career to date, the truth is that Bennette is a talented footballer who’s still finding his way in the rough and tumble world of the Championship.
Of that there’s no doubt, and although it would’ve been incredibly easy for the coaching staff to send him elsewhere for a half-season loan spell, it’s obvious that they see the value in keeping him in and around the first team picture and thereby allowing him to continue to develop.
The idea that loan spells, ostensibly designed to test the resilience of players and allow them to ‘learn their trade’ will work for everyone is nonsense, frankly.
Some thrive, and some don't. Some make a huge impression elsewhere and others need to be kept in the fold at their parent club, for their own wellbeing and self belief, if nothing else.
Bennette’s challenge is to take advantage of every opportunity he’s given, to show Mowbray and the coaches that he’s ready to step into the breach when called upon, and not allow his head to drop when things don’t quite go his way.
Saturday was extremely encouraging, but the real challenge for Bennette is adding work rate, resilience, and consistency to his repertoire.
If he wants proof of this, he only needs to look at Jack Clarke, who gradually evolved from a skillful, erratic winger into a deadly attacker following his arrival in January 2021.
Witnessing impudent flashes of skill is great, and his national team coach Claudio Vivas would’ve doubtless been encouraged by what he saw, but it’s vital that Bennette doesn’t lose his focus, and that he can eventually turn those flashes into prolonged periods of genuine quality.
The good thing is that it’s all in Bennette’s hands at this moment in time, and I don’t think there’s a single supporter who doesn’t want to see him succeed in red and white.
Sunderland gave him the chance when they brought him from his homeland in the summer of 2022, and only he can repay that faith and show that he’s got what it takes to make the grade in English football.
Oh yes, and if he scores the winning goal for his national team against Saudi Arabia at SJP during the international break, I’ll personally fund and build him a statue!