Jack Ross believes that summer signing Luke O'Nien is getting 'closer and closer' to a first-teams start, having been enthused by his performances in recent weeks.
O'Nien - a summer acquisition from Wycombe - was in and out of the Sunderland squad during the early weeks of the season after making the move to the Stadium of Light.
But in recent weeks, the 24-year-old has managed to make a sustained impact on the squad, albeit from the bench.
Now, having netted the decisive fourth goal during the midweek win over Barnsley, fans are calling for the former Watford youngster to be handed a start.
And Ross has revealed that O'Nien features prominently in his thoughts and that he is getting closer to being handed a starting spot.
However, the Sunderland boss acknowledged that those already starting in the centre of the park had done little to warrant being dropped - presenting a potential obstacle to O'Nien.
"He's making it harder and harder to leave him out," said Ross.
"He's such a good lad anyway and appreciates it's all about the group.
"The challenge for him at the moment is that all the players who are starting at the moment are doing well.
"He'll get more and more opportunities, we've seen that recently as he's got more and more game time.
"He'll start more and more games as well and we always felt he would be an asset to us this season, and I'm pleased that he's showing that."
Ross also spoke about the work put in by his coaching staff as they helped O'Nien acclimatise to life away from home.
The move to Sunderland meant a real change in surroundings for the midfielder - which naturally meant he took time to settle.
"Some players come to a club and settle right away, others take longer," Ross added.
"I don't mean to say he was finding it hard among the group, he was really good from day one.
"It's a big change for him and, in his personal life, it's the first time he's moved away from home.
"There's loads of different things to consider, so we felt we tried to manage him and coach him in the best way.
"I think now he completely feels part of the club and that's been backed up by the contribution he's made."