JACK ROSS insists he still has a lot of faith in Bali Mumba, but the Sunderland boss remains in no rush to restore the teenager back into his first-team squad.

This time last season, Mumba was making a name for himself in Sunderland’s senior set-up despite his tender years, featuring in the first three League One matches as well as a couple of Checkatrade Trophy games.

However, since starting January’s Checkatrade win over Newcastle United Under-21s, the youngster has been absent from the Black Cats’ first-team set-up. He has not made the squad for any of this season’s senior matches, with his involvement instead restricted to Elliott Dickman’s Under-23s.

Ross is keen to tread carefully with the 17-year-old, but is adamant Mumba’s lack of first-team action should not be interpreted as an indication that he has been disappointed with the teenager’s progress.

At the start of last season, circumstances dictated that Mumba had to be fast-tracked into the senior set-up. With more options at his disposal, Ross can leave him in the Under-23s this term, enabling him to play with his peers.

The Sunderland boss is adamant that will assist with his footballing education, and with Mumba set to represent England Under-19s when they play against Germany later today, Ross remains happy with the rate of the youngster’s development.

“I think last season, circumstances dictated that he was very much thrown in at the deep end,” said the Black Cats manager. “He trained with me pretty much every day last season.

“He went straight from school, so he actually missed out on being involved with a lot of the players around his own age and even judging himself against them. So, we made a conscious decision to let him enjoy that, but he trained with me last week. He’s not the only one we take over at times, Dan Neil is another young one who comes over.

“He’s still in and around what we do, but the bulk of his work is with Elliott’s group and I think that’s important for him because he’s still a very young man.

“He’s still in our thoughts though. Probably the only reason he wasn’t involved against Burnley (in the second round of the Carabao Cup) was positionally. We had a lot of players playing in similar parts of the park to him either starting or on the bench.”

When he broke into the senior set-up at the start of last season, Mumba found himself stationed in central midfield. That has been his designated position for the majority of his career, but in recent weeks, he has found himself deployed at right-back for the Under-23s.

Ross does not want to get too bogged down with obsessing over his best position at such an early stage of his development, but admits there is chance he could find himself having a prolonged run at full-back.

For now, though, he simply wants Mumba to get as much match action as possible, ahead of a possible loan move away from Wearside at some stage in the future.

“I’m not sure at the moment where he’ll end up playing,” said Ross. “I think it’s a challenge for Elliott and Michael (Proctor) because we’ve had conversations about making sure we identify that and making him the best he can possibly be in that area. I know they’ve been pleased with how he’s performed at full-back recently and he played there earlier in his academy career.

“There’s a trust in them at the moment because they see him a lot more than I do and they’re working a lot closer with him, but my opinion of him as a young footballer has never changed.

“Watching him again in training last week, he’s got brilliant attributes and I like him. He’s an asset to the football club and he’ll go on to have a good career as long as he keeps doing what he’s doing because his desire to get better is really good.

“There’s pros and cons to tying him down to a position at this age. The benefit is learning something inside out, the cons are you might restrict his ability and his first-team opportunities.

“If you’re a midfielder and you’ve got four first-team midfielders at first-team level all playing well, it’s really difficult.

“If you can also play as a winger and there’s only one winger ahead of you, you might get your opportunity.

“Versatility, particularly in the modern game, can be an advantage, but equally we have to make sure he learns how to play a position or more than one position well.”

The international break meant Sunderland did not have a game at the weekend, with their scheduled match against Burton Albion having been postponed.

However, some League One teams did play and Wycombe Wanderers’ 3-1 win over Lincoln City took them to the top of the table with 15 points from seven games.

Sunderland’s weekend opponents, Accrington Stanley, drew 3-3 with Bristol Rovers, with Seamus Conneely’s dismissal meaning he will miss Saturday’s game with the Black Cats.