Sunderland boss gives interesting insight into Isaac Lihadji progress - and what's next
Tony Mowbray remains confident that Isaac Lihadji can make an impact on Sunderland's season but says it is a long-term project to integrate him into the team on a regular basis.
Lihadji joined from Lille in the latter stages of the January window and has had limited game time since. Mowbray says he is adapting both on and off the pitch, and was encouraged that he took up the opportunity to top up his minutes in an U21 game at Eppleton last week.
He played 78 minutes and impressed in a 1-1 draw against Derby County, returning to the matchday squad for the defeat at Coventry City.
Mowbray hopes that Lihadji can in time emulate Amad, who has gone on to become a mainstay in the starting XI after settling into the club following his arrival on loan from Manchester United.
"His talent jumps out at you on the training pitch," Mowbray said.
"His left foot, his foot hovers over the ball whether he's going inside or outside, he'll wait for the defender to move then he'll flick his leg and he's away like lightning off a standing start. But it's OK seeing it in possession drills - I need to see it in games.
"Hopefully at some stage through the process we all think, a bit like Amad Diallo, he didn't come in and start from day one because he's from Manchester United, he had to prove it and show us and do it in training. I think it's the same with Isaac.
"When the opportunity is there he should play and show us. Let's hope at some stage before the end of the season we all think, did we seriously ever pick a team without Isaac in it because how can you not play that talent because it's amazing.
"The talent jumps out at you on the training pitch and yet he doesn't speak the language at all yet. I can't put him out there if he's not sure whether he has to run back, he has to tuck in. And the communication side, the team is more important than the individual.
"But I'm sure we'll get there, hopefully the talent will be shown to the supporters and hopefully he can impact our team before the season's end."
Fellow January recruit Joe Anderson also featured in the U21s last week, playing in the 6-4 defeat to Aston Villa before linking up with the senior squad for Saturday's game.
Mowbray says it won't be a regular occurrence but stressed the importance of the players staying match fit for when they are called upon.
"The team has been doing alright, so there's no urgency to change everything and put them in, but footballers should want to play football," he said.
"Joe Anderson will come into that category as well, where he'll be playing for the 21s every now and again, but not every game. "He's not here to play 21s football, they're here to try and break into the first team.
"But you can't let weeks and weeks and weeks roll by without any football, so there will be the odd game where we drop them in."