Michael Beale explains key Leo Hjelde decision and gives encouraging update on Nazariy Rusyn's progress
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Michael Beale said he was 'delighted' with Leo Hjelde's performance and felt it help add balance to the Sunderland side.
Jenson Seelt has performed admirably at right back since Aji Alese's injury, but Beale made the decision to put Hjelde straight into the starting XI after his arrival from Leeds United earlier this week.
The 20-year-old held his own as the Black Cats earned a battling point at the Riverside, with Trai Hume reverting to his preferred right-back role. Hjelde will also compete for a place at centre back when Sunderland's other left-back options return to fitness, with Callum Styles also likely to be used primarily as a left back when available.
Hjelde, though, has made a strong start in his bid to hold down a regular place.
"I was delighted with Leo's performance, he was strong in what was a difficult game to make a debut," Beale said.
"He'd only trained with his team mates three or four times and it had been a real whirlwind week for him. I thought he showed what he is going to bring, he was tenacious in his tackles and got up and down the pitch. You can see clearly that he's not just a left back, he's going to be able to play as a left-sided centre half.
"He's another one who I think we've done really well to recruit, he's got bags of personality which I think our team needs. There's an energy and aggression about him. We didn't Leo as high up the pitch as we might have liked at times but I think you certainly saw the benefit of Trai going to right back and especially in the first half - it's nice to have that balance. Abdoullah played well today and Jack as well, to then have Paddy back and Romaine in the mix - we're going to need them all going into a three-game week."
Beale also praised Nazariy Rusyn for his significant impact from the bench, and believes there are very encouraging signs that the striker is beginning to settle into life on Wearside.
“His family are here now, so I’ve seen a difference in him," Beale said.
"Naturally, you would if you’re a father and living away. Where he’s from, there’s a war going on, and he’s a long way away from his wife and child. They’re here now, which is fantastic for him on a personal level. I think all the time his English improves, he’ll have better connections with his team-mates on the pitch.
"At the moment, I think his energy, his pressing and his work ethic are great, but it’s just that connection that’s missing. I also think he’s probably played 75 per cent of his football as a left-sided forward coming in, so I’m not saying he’s not a number nine, but I am saying that he’s more than that. He gets his goal pulling into the wide areas, which he likes. There’s a lot said about recruiting this or that, but my job is to work with the players that are here in front of me, and I’ve been really pleased with him and Mason since I’ve come to the club.”