Denver Hume and Lee Johnson have so far only featured together on a Sunderland matchday for a little over half an hour.
The left-back had made the role his own in both a back four and five under the stewardship of numerous coaches, but was forced off just 32 minutes into Johnson’s first match in charge against Wigan Athletic.
Sustaining what turned out to be a Grade 3 right hamstring tear, Hume’s initial timescale was considerably shorter than the current three-and-a-half-month absence he is currently working hard to end.
“It’s not been an ideal situation for me at all, but I’m back out training fully now,” Hume recently told Red & White, our official matchday programme.
“When I first got the injury, the physios thought it was going to be a little less serious than it turned out.
“I progressed quite quickly – working on the grass and doing ball work – but then it reoccurred. The scans showed a Grade 3 tear, a more significant injury than I was obviously hoping.”
Hume has been adamant of taking all the right protocols to ensure no further risk upon his return, despite feeling satisfied about his displays up until early December.
“I hadn’t had a muscle injury before now in my career, so it probably healed quicker than usual, and the thought was that it would just be a strain. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and in hindsight we should’ve given it a bit more time.
“I’ve been doing plenty more rehabilitation work in the gym, and not rushing anything, so that I’m back to full fitness sooner rather than later.
“The season from a personal perspective was going well for me, I felt. I played a lot of games at the start, and I thought I was doing well. You get into the swing of the routine, playing Saturday-Tuesday, and my momentum was carrying on from playing a large number of games last season.”
With Callum McFadzean and now January arrival Jake Vokins competing with Hume once he is fit, he is delighted that Johnson has depth at his disposal to minimise the impact of injuries such as his own.
“It’s always good to have teammates to compete with for a place. It’s a challenge that pushes you to do well and keeps your performances to the highest standards possible.
“You want to make that shirt yours, and I think it’s healthy. If you look at our squad now, I think we have that depth and competition in every position, and it’s very useful for when you have injuries. Our central defensive area is a prime example with Bailey [Wright], Tom Flanagan and Jordan Willis all out.
“With the number of games being played and the season as compressed and busy as it is, you need to have that cover all over the pitch.”
It’s easy to forget he is still just 22, but Hume expresses his delight at the 66 senior appearances he has so far made.
“I started as a winger when I was a kid. I was picked up at nine years old just playing for boys’ teams in my area, and came through at Sunderland to find my position.
“I feel wing-back suits me well and I have that right balance, which allows me to get forward. But I’m comfortable in a back four and enjoy that role a lot too.
“I’m happy to have played the number of games I have for the club. Playing games is how you improve, it gives you that confidence – I made my debut against Wolves on the last day of the Championship season in 2018, and League One presented me with an opportunity to regularly play.”
A Northumberland lad and 13 years a Mackem, Hume recalls some fond memories as he stormed through the ranks on Wearside.
“There were a lot of occasions I look back on with good memories coming through the academy. We had a very good Under-18 team, and we gave good games to some of the best sides in the country. I grew up a Manchester United fan because my older brother supported them, and so I always enjoyed playing against them.
“We played an Under-21 game at Old Trafford and I was up against Marcus Rashford, and we used to face Manchester City, Chelsea… the very best. We reached a European final at the Stadium of Light then too and faced FC Porto – about 15-20k fans came to watch.
“It’s really good to see lads who you grew up playing alongside doing so well. I came through with Embo [Elliot Embleton], Josh Maja, Joel Asoro… George Honeyman, [Lynden] Gooch as well. All very good players – and we have some good youngsters coming through now: Jack Diamond, Dan Neil, Ollie Younger… they’re all breaking through and doing well.”
With the Lads in a promising run of form and having already lifted the Papa John’s Trophy at Wembley, Hume hopes his return to the team can coincide with a season finale to remember for Black Cats fans and players alike.
“I think we can definitely achieve a lot this season, and there’s still so much to play for. We entered a bit of a sticky patch since I’ve been injured, and for a while now we’ve picked up and earned some good results.
“We have to just try and keep that going, stay consistent, and winning at Wembley too – that can breed confidence. With the squad we have, I think you could say we’ll be kicking ourselves if we don’t give ourselves a chance to get promoted.
“That’s been the aim since we got relegated to League One – the only aim we have is to go up.”