Sunderland would have known that they were taking a risk when they signed Reece James on a one-year deal this summer.
The former Manchester United youngster was part of the Wigan Athletic team that won the League One title and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in 2017/18. But James has endured an injury ravaged couple of years, featuring in just 22 league games last season after missing the entirety of the previous campaign.
And, after picking up another problem in pre-season, the 24-year-old has started just two of Sunderland’s first seven League One games under Jack Ross. So the next few months are crucial if James wants to ensure that the Stadium of Light remains his home for the foreseeable future.
Bryan Oviedo stayed on Wearside against all the odds this summer and the Costa Rican star, who missed the 1-1 draw with Oxford last time out due to international duty, is one of the third tier’s best full-backs. In five games, Oviedo has produced three assists.
Furthermore, Denver Hume has also stepped up in recent weeks and looks like the next academy graduate to seal his place in the first team. Perhaps worryingly for James, Hume was picked to start ahead of him at left-back against Oxford on Saturday and he impressed too.
With James’ contract only running until next summer, he needs to put those injuries behind him and force his way into Sunderland’s XI before it’s too late.