Jeremain Lens is nearing a return to Sunderland’s first team after undergoing a hernia operation.
The £8 million signing impressed Sunderland U21 coach Andy Welsh after a solid performance in their 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.
The Dutchman’s work rate shown in his recovery from injury is set to pay off as he edges closer to a first-team recall.
Lens was an unused substitute for Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby. Billy Jones and Wes Brown also played in the victory.
Speaking to Chronicle Live, Welsh said that all three first-teamers "worked really hard" and that they were "terrific" in the victory.
He believes that they all "bought into the fact that the boys are top of the league," meaning they displayed a "first class" attitude and showed that "they didn't want to let anybody down."
Welsh continued his praise, saying: “Billy worked very hard and defended very well, same with Wes Brown. His distribution was very good and his quality and experience speaks for itself."
As for Lens, the coach said he "worked hard and could have scored," whilst he was pleased that he tracked back when the team "didn't have the ball."
Whilst the Dutchman prepares to return to the first team fold, the other two aren't so close. Jones was also an unused substitute during Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with fierce rivals Newcastle United. Brown attended the game but was not part of the 18 man squad. Sam Allardyce is said to see both players as back-up options.
A change of heart?
Lens may be able to play a big part in the Black Cats bid for survival. His lightning pace and skill certainly bolsters Allaryce’s attacking options.
Welsh’s comments about his work-rate may have thrown Lens a lifeline at Sunderland too. The 28-year-old received criticism after arriving on Wearside, with fans blasting his lazy attitude and his lack of effort in games.