WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 15: Dion Sanderson of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League 2 match between Wolverhampton Wanderers U23 and Stoke City U23 at Molineux on April 15, 2019 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)
Birmingham City’s loanee centre-back, Dion Sanderson, is ‘most certainly’ ready for the step up to Championship football.
Lee Bowyer’s side saw off a vast amount of competition in the pursuit of Sanderson, who signed a new four-year-deal with his parent club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, before sealing a year-long loan move to St Andrews.
But for those that don’t know much about the 21-year-old and just why he was attracting so much interest – we sat down with our Sunderland reporter Smith to see exactly what Birmingham fans can expect from their new addition.
Defence is a position that seems to have plagued this Birmingham team for years. If you don’t keep clean sheets, you aren’t going to win many games. And that’s certainly been the case here.
That isn’t to say Sanderson is going to come in and everything will be rosy – but Smith believes his performances last season can only result in more positive outcomes for the Blues.
“Excellent” he said, when summing up the 21-year-old’s overall impact.
“It took him a couple of months to get into the team, as Phil Parkinson had a settled defence that was doing fairly well.
“It was hard to see who would make way, but Sanderson made the whole thing seem fairly bizarre when he did break through and hit the ground running.
“There was a defensive crisis in terms of injuries for much of the second half of the campaign and the youngster pretty much held the whole thing together on his own.
“He was outstanding and the back injury he suffered is seen by most as one of the absolutely key reasons why Sunderland’s promotion bid fell away.”
STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES
Sanderson will predominantly be competing for a starting spot alongside Harlee Dean, Marc Roberts and Kristian Pederson – so what traits can he bring to the table that the others maybe don’t?
“His strongest attribute is probably his pace and athleticism,” explained Smith.
“It can help him make some really crucial defensive recoveries if he or his team-mates ever get into trouble.
“One of the biggest things he brought to the Sunderland defence was his composure in possession.
“He’s really comfortable stepping out with the ball and driving into space. He very rarely plays the kind of panicked clearances that you quite often see in the third tier.”
The fact he is comfortable playing out from the back at such a young age only bodes well for the style that Bowyer has evidently been trying to implement in his short time in the west midlands.
But what of his weaknesses?
“I wouldn’t say there are any obvious weaknesses in terms of his attributes.
“But clearly, he is still relatively inexperienced, and he is only going to get more streetwise in terms of the way he deals with experienced opponents the more he plays.”
IS HE CAPABLE OF THE STEP UP?
The inexperience of playing in the second tier is a concern for some.
You can have all the ability in the world but putting it into practice is a completely different ball game.
Smith, however, believes the transition between League One and The Championship will almost be effortless for the 21-year-old.
“Most definitely,” he said, when asked if Sanderson is capable of the step up.
“Wolves were very surprised that no Championship club swooped for him last summer and that was why Sunderland were able to seal a last-minute move on deadline day.
“He was ready for Championship football then, and he most certainly is now.”
WHAT CAN BLUES FANS EXPECT?
Smith was certainly full of praise for the young centre-back and it has become quite apparent just how highly thought of he is not only by his parent club but by those up in the north-east, too.
The Blues faithful got a sneak peek of what the defender can do when he made his competitive debut for the club in the Carabao Cup defeat to Fulham.
And Smith believes he will show the fans exactly why he is so highly rated.
“Speed, composure and humility,” were the three things the Sunderland reporter said that Birmingham fans can expect in abundance.
“He was immensely popular with fans he never actually got to play in front of.
“I’m sure Birmingham fans will take to him, too.”