FOR a young Liverpool midfielder who regards disappointment in the FA Youth Cup as the biggest blow in his career so far, Ovie Ejaria clearly took a sizeable gamble when he accepted the offer to join a club deep in relegation trouble in January.

It is perhaps a sign of the 20-year-old’s character, just seven months after celebrating World Cup glory with England’s Under-20s, that he did not look on a switch to struggling Sunderland as a negative.

Ejaria, well-liked and highly-rated by Jurgen Klopp, could easily have opted for the easier street and continued to star for the Reds’ Under-23s in their own fight for the Premier League 2 title.

He wanted the challenge, the experience of first team football and the it couldn’t have been any harder than the one he faces on Wearside – where he is determined to do what he can to leave the Stadium of Light this summer on a high.

Ejaria, speaking at the Academy of Light yesterday, said: “I played in FA Youth Cups, knocked out when I was in the Under-18s and it hurt, but that is nothing like I am experiencing now. This is the hardest I have been through and I have only been here since January, so it’s all about how you cope.

“At Liverpool, at the beginning of the season, we were doing well with the 23s and sitting top of the league, winning loads, then I came here and it’s been a lot different, coming into a relegation battle.

“It’s a test mentally for anyone, definitely, particularly when you are young. Hopefully we can turn it round because there are games left to achieve what we need to.

“Possibly it can still have a happy ending here for me. If we can get the wins until the end of the season then it will be one to look back on as a good experience. Even if it doesn’t go well between now and then it will still have been a big learning curve.”

Ejaria had other options when the winter transfer window opened. He talked things over with his parents and Jurgen Klopp before chatting with Chris Coleman. He knew Sunderland were in a mess, and yet still wanted to take on the challenge to try to prove he could make a difference.

He said: “When I was growing up as a young player, playing for Arsenal before I moved to Liverpool (2014), I always knew Sunderland to be a Premier League club, so it’s quite crazy to see the position the club is in.

“Everyone knows Sunderland is as massive club, how it looks in the table now everyone will be shocked because of the situation and hopefully we can turn it round because none of us want this club to fall out of the Championship.”

Ejaria was not even born until a few months after Sunderland moved into the Stadium of Light in 1997, so the majority of the time since then he has grown up seeing the Black Cats face the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal in the top-flight.

It is hard for him to imagine that Sunderland, rooted to the bottom of the Championship ahead of this Saturday’s visit of Preston, could be playing Accrington Stanley, leading League Two, in the League One next season.

“Yeah I could have stayed at Liverpool,” said Ejaria. “Just the week before I came to Sunderland I was back up at Melwood training with the first team again, like I was earlier in the season.

“But the main thing for me is to develop as a player and experience playing senior football. That was one of the main reasons I had to make this decision.

“I obviously spoke with my dad, I did have a conversation with the manager (Jurgen), about three weeks before I came, about what will happen and what he thought. All of the players at Sunderland will benefit from this experience because it is a test mentally.

“I try to reflect on my game regardless of the result. Once one game has gone I try to focus on the next one and try to make my performance better, better in every game. If you do that then you will become a better player.”

It is a mature outlook from Southwark-born Ejaria and one that should stand him in good stead moving forward. Ideally he would love to leave Sunderland having achieved one of the greatest of great escapes by keeping second tier football on Wearside.

Last weekend’s appearance at QPR was only his fifth for Sunderland, all starts, and he is set for more because of the torn quadriceps due to keep Jonny Williams out for the next month. Before that Ejaria had made eight appearances for Liverpool, and he hopes to impress under Coleman and for Sunderland in the run-in.

He said: “I spoke to Ben Woodburn a little before I came here, I had seen what Chris Coleman had done with him at Wales. It is clear he is willing to give young players an opportunity. I had seen what he did with Ben and Wales, it wasn’t just Ben either, there were others also. It was a big factor in coming here.

“I will benefit from this and I am focused on trying to help the team and performing well here. If I keep doing my best then maybe we will get the points we need to stay up. I can do better personally, I know that, I just want to keep working and hopefully I will get better.”

Sunderland’s plight, sitting five points adrift of safety with nine matches remaining, means Coleman is likely to need his relatively young team to deliver victories in around five of those to stay up.

The perilous situation has led to fresh rumours on social media and fans’ forums that owner Ellis Short is set to put the club into administration, however club sources maintain that is not the case.