ANTHONY Stokes was today sent out on loan to Sheffield United.
The Republic of Ireland international joins the Blades on a three-month loan which could be extended to the end of the season.
The move marks a pivotal moment in the young striker's career after a couple of seasons on the periphery of Sunderland's first team.
The 20-year-old joined Sunderland from Arsenal in a 2m deal almost two years ago after an outstanding loan spell at Falkirk.
He scored 16 goals in 18 games for the Scottish side, but was never able to come anywhere near replicating that prolific form during his time on Wearside.
He has contributed, though, to the first team during his stay at Sunderland.
And undoubtedly, his most important contribution was scoring a late winner against Derby County at the Stadium of Light last season in what was a relegation six-pointer.
This season he came on as a sub in Sunderland's Carling Cup game against Northampton and scored two goals to keep the team in the competition.
But this season, generally, he has struggled to get involved in the first team.
Manager Roy Keane told the Gazette today: "The deal with him going to Sheffield United was due to be tied up this afternoon, and it's one of those deals that we hope will benefit everyone involved – Sunderland, Sheffield United and Stokesy.
"But no one more than Stokesy, because what he really needs, at this stage, is a run of first-team games.
"And hopefully, not only will he get that at Sheffield United, but he will also get a run of games through the middle.
"I've got to say that when he's played for us he's played a lot of games coming on as a substitute, making cameo appearances. And he has also come on and played on the wings.
"So this move will give him a chance to maybe start games and start them in his preferred position, because I know Sheffield United have been struggling a bit with injuries."
The young Irish striker has a chance to make an instant name for himself this weekend at the Championship club.
It looks likely he will be plunged straight into the Blades' most important fixture of the season – the Steel city derby against local rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
The match will be played at Hillsborough, and Stokes travelled back from international duty with the Republic knowing that he has every prospect of starting a game in red and white this weekend.