Tyias Browning was excellent again at the heart of Chris Coleman's three-man defence yesterday. The Everton loanee was strong in the tackle and made three crucial blocks and some excellent clearances as Sunderland finally ended their home hoodoo with a win against Fulham.
With the 23-year-old already surpassing Lamine Kone's contribution to the red-and-white cause this season, someone inside Black Cats Towers really ought to be making a cheeky call to Sam Allardyce to suggest he can have the Ivorian in January if he lets us hang onto Browning next season.
Big Sam has of course been linked to Kone and the other assorted fleeting gems from his time at Sunderland since he was unveiled at Goodison, as he was when he washed up at Palace. Those who have otherwise been rubbish since the Everton boss departed the Stadium of Light have already been linked with a move to Merseyside. Patrick van Aanholt and Wahbi Khazri have been mentioned and Jan Kirchhoff will be no doubt if he ever manages to get himself fit.
Kone is injured of course and won't return to action until roughly mid-way through the January transfer window. The North East press weren't prepared to allow that to get in the way of the obvious tittle-tattle to be spread this week though.The Northern Echo started the story that Allardyce is desperate to sign the Ivorian defender but will request a detailed fitness report from Sunderland ahead of pondering a bid. Quite why a Darlington-based newspaper would have the inside track on Big Sam's Merseyside transfer thinking is anyone's guess but times are hard in the print news world.
Before his latest injury, Lamine Kone has been rot again this season, as he was last. A January exit will suit all parties and bring the curtain down on a terrible eighteen months in the former Lorient man's career. The Ivorian will be 29 on February 1st - the day he's likely to be unveiled in someone else's colours - and in the decade since he made his professional debut in the lower echelons of French football, the Paris-born defender has really only displayed any Premier League ability in that few months under Allardyce.
But let's not tell the Evertonians that and surely Kone will finally vacate the Stadium of Light in January after outstaying his welcome for well over a year now. There were rumours a couple of top flight clubs were taking a look at him in the summer but Sunderland's valuation put them off. The Black Cats will no doubt have to concede some ground in the upcoming transfer window to shift him on for much above the £5m they paid Lorient two years ago.
Quite what Everton's intentions for Browning will be in the summer is unclear. The former England U20 international appears to possess sufficient to forge a career for himself in the Premier League. If under Simon Grayson he was somewhat inconsistent in the first months of his spell at Sunderland, he wasn't the only one as the dismissed manager's lack of defensive nous was laid bare in brutal fashion.
In his last couple of appearances as part of a centre-back trio, the lad has displayed an encouraging new-found awareness and sense of positioning which was lacking earlier in the season. Certainly Browning's game seems to complement that of the ageing John O'Shea next to him as well as summer signing Marc Wilson.
If the veteran O'Shea's legs are gone, the youngster alongside him makes up for it and whilst Browning isn't the tallest lad on the pitch, the Sunderland captain's heading ability compensates for his 5ft 11in stature. Though it was Marc Wilson, the other man in central defence, who commanded the occasional aerial battle yesterday against Fulham. It seems to work and will be tested further in next week's relegation fixture against Birmingham.
Browning's game still has a way to develop and despite one Gary Bennett-esque run forward yesterday which got the crowd going, he still needs to work on his composure when in possession. In truth the Everton lad resembles the Lamine Kone we can vaguely recall from the Allardyce days in some ways, but right now he would quite easily keep Kone out of the side.